Sean Maguire

One image sticks in my mind. President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia are standing in the gardens of a villa in Geneva. They are engaged in friendly conversation, drinking wine. Tudjman looks like a man who knows he has mistakenly been invited to a party but is determined to prove himself worthy of the expensive embossed card, which he has in his inside pocket and will keep as a souvenir in case he receives no more. Milosevic is sphinxlike. His eyes are leaden, expressionless. The pair turn and at the same moment see the camera recording their togetherness; both blink and move silently into privacy. Strange indeed to see them friends again, however temporary and convenient their friendship.

That image was recorded at a recent session of the Bosnian peace talks in Geneva; perhaps Milosevic and Tudjman were discussing their joint proposal to carve up Bosnia-Herzegovina into ethnic slices, perhaps they were talking about the old days under Tito. What they will not have been talking about, and what at the moment is perhaps the only thing that can be agreed on in the matter of Bosnia, is the fact that the Serbs are the winners; that they are simply waiting for the prize ceremony Lord Owen is organising for them. Sizes of cantons and access roads and human rights protocols are simply so much blether glossing the success of brute force.

A colleague once described the Serbs as controlling the Bosnia conflict the way a conductor controls a symphony orchestra. In his voice there was a hint of admiration. The Bosnian Serb strategy is always to push things to the limit. They will rouse anger, indignation, fury, until enough cries of ‘something must be done’ can be heard in the capitals of Nato countries. Then they back off, leaving their opponents reeling with exhaustion. It’s a particularly useful tactic for dealing with relief agencies, who congratulate themselves at the smallest success. Every time a convoy reaches a besieged Eastern Bosnian enclave the UNHCR claims to have won a battle, even though they know they are losing the campaign to keep places like Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde as viable living spaces for Muslim communities.

The same canny style is used to keep Sarajevo on the verge of extinction. Since there has been no electricity to speak of in the city for 11 months, diesel fuel has to be brought in to run water pumps and to power generators for the bakery and the hospitals. In early July one such convoy, of four tankers and several lorries of utility fuel, was stopped by Bosnian Serb soldiers on one of the access routes to the city. Their negotiating tools were a T-55 tank and several drunks holding rocket-propelled grenade-launchers. One of the RPGs was dropped by a drunk in the course of the discussions: fortunately it did not ignite. A compromise was reached with the theft by the Bosnian Serbs of one of the tankers of diesel fuel and some of the utility oil.

The convoy proceeded to Sarajevo Airport, which is UN-controlled, and then stopped because permission was not granted for it to travel through the last front line and enter the city; the Bosnian Serbs demanded another tankerload of diesel before they would give the relevant signature. This impasse lasted a week. It took the arrival of the High Commissioner for Refugees herself, Mrs Sadako Ogata, before a minor Bosnian Serb official at a nearby barracks could be persuaded to rummage through his back pockets and discover the appropriate document dated five days previously. The convoy then entered Sarajevo.

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