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PROSPECTS FOR PEACE IN BOSNIA SEEM MORE REMOTE THAN EVER

SHARE PROSPECTS FOR PEACE IN BOSNIA SEEM MORE REMOTE THAN EVER

IF ANYONE THOUGHT the "Agreement on Principles" signed in Geneva last week meant peace was just around the corner for Bosnia, our cruise missile strikes disabused them of that.

Many agreements, including cease-fires, have been signed by Bosnian politicians - Serb, Croat and Muslim - over the years, only to be broken or ignored by their military commanders.This one is not all that different from what the Serbs could have settled for two years ago, except that the tide of battle was in their favor then and they didn't want to accept just 49 percent of the territory when they occupied 70 percent.

Now, of course, their warmaking capabilities are being considerably reduced by NATO jets and Tomahawks. But Gen. Bernard Janvier, the French U.N. commander, still is having difficulty persuading Serbian Gen. Ratko Mladic to remove his heavy guns from around Sarajevo.

Even if he does, U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke warns that it will take months, if not years, to hammer the "principles" into a durable peace pact. And there is always the danger that one or another of the three sides may take up arms again if the talks don't go their way.

The "principles" would split Bosnia into two ill-defined halves consisting of a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb "entity" known as the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic). While both halves would be self-governing, Bosnia-Herzegovina will remain one country with one seat at the United Nations and a "central connecting structure."

The degree of independence of the Serb "entity" has yet to be established. The Clinton administration says it will not be allowed to coalesce with neighboring Serbia into a "Greater Serbia." And Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic says the Serbs will have only a "second-class government" until they repair the effects of ethnic cleansing and institute democratic reforms.

He forecasts a "transition period" of up to 15 years between the signing of a peace agreement and full participation by Serbs in Bosnia's central government.

One thing about the principles, however, is that they are so ambiguous that each party can interpret them in its own way. Thus they also allow the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation to establish "special relationships" with neighboring countries.

The painstakingly worded "principles" leave unanswered the most difficult questions of the war:

- How Bosnia's land would actually be divided.

- The status of Sarajevo (would it be a multiethnic capital or reserved for Muslims alone).

- The status of Gorazde, a Muslim enclave surrounded by Serb-held lands.

- The status of Eastern Slavonia, a sliver of Croatian territory till held by the Serbs.

- The status of war criminals. Currently 43 Serbs have been indicted, but only one Croat and one Muslim. Would they get amnesty? Or are Serb leaders expected to negotiate a peace that will put them in the dock?

Each unanswered question contains the seeds of another war, as does the bitterness left by this one.