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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 21 JUN 1994 22:01:40 GMT

    ARE KNIN AND ZAGREB REALLY READY TO NEGOTIATE?

    Summary: The recently planned negotiations between Zagreb and Knin in Plitvice failed because any discussion about economic issues affects the essential political problems. In talks about opening of the Belgrade-Zagreb highway, the issue of collecting custom duties and road tolls emerges. Knin still refuses to talk about Krajina as part of Croatia, while Belgrade is restrained. It neither offers support to the creation of an independent Serbian state, nor does it exert pressure on Knin to accept the solution on autonomy within Croatia. It is interesting that a meeting of the Vice-president of the Government of FRY Zeljko Simic and Foreign Minister of Croatia, Mate Granic was announced. This piece of news coincided with the cancellation of the Plitvice negotiations. In announcing this planned meeting, Simic used phrases like "good relations between the two countries". In a way Belgrade is in a stalemate position, caught between the need to do something in order to alleviate the sanctions and its impotence to change the political orientation of the Serbs it is responsible for.

    AIM, Belgrade, June 21, 1994

    When a fortnight ago, the leader of Krajina Serbs, Milan Martic, suddenly left for Geneva, and on the very same day when the President of Yugoslavia, Zoran Lilic, sent word to the leaders across the Drina river that they must not jeopardize "our peace policy", he abandoned the firm demand that the continuation of negotiations with Zagreb could be held only in Geneva and nowhere else, it seemed that things might, after all, move from the standstill. Negotiations scheduled for May 17, however, not only failed to give any results, but were not held at all.

    According to what could be read in Belgrade press, the negotiations formally failed due to problems concerning the procedure. Namely, the Croatian party demanded that five Croatian journalists be present at them, and the authorities in Knin allowed the presence of only one journalist and one cameraman, claiming that the same number of representatives of the "seventh force" were present at the negotiations on ceasefire in Zagreb a month and a half ago.

    Essentially, the problem lies in the fact that the issue is not economic but political in nature, so it is actually impossible to have separate negotiations. It is impossible, for instance, to talk about opening of the Zagreb-Belgrade highway, which both the authorities in Croatia and the authorities in Serbia, i.e. Yugoslavia, are interested in, without reaching the decision about who will collect customs duties and road tolls, who will stamp the passports and similar issues.

    The authorities in Zagreb consider the territories controlled by the Serbs as their own and they cannot allow Knin to do all that, because it would mean recognition of its independence. At the same time, Knin stubbornly insists on its independence and, accordingly, considers it is entitled to collect all types of taxes like any other state and to have its customs officials control the goods and the passengers.

    Everything that was happening in connection with the cancelled negotiations in Plitvice was attentively followed in Belgrade, and the statements given by Serbian leaders from Knin accusing Croatian authorities for obstruction were all carried in extenso. It was evident, though, that the papers were not too eager to show their "patriotism" and to find evidence of Croatia's wish to occupy "Serbian land".

    Belgrade is obviously showing a high degree of restraint; one of the signs of it is publicizing the intention of the Vice-President of the Yugoslav Government and one of the close associates of Slobodan Milosevic, Zeljko Simic, to meet soon with the Foreign Minister of Croatia, Mate Granic. News that this meeting is being planned was made public at the very moment the negotiations in Plitvice were cancelled, and it was stated that the main issue will be communications. Simic even used phrases such as "good relations between the two vcountries" which should become even better after the meeting of the two Vice-Presidents.

    Belgrade is extremely interested in normalization of relations with Croatia for at least two reasons. The first is the need to stop the war in order to at least alleviate the disastrous effects of the sancttions, and the second is purely an economic one and can be reduced down to the need to renew the communications with Europe via Croatia, which is obviously the shortest and the cheapest and the best way to do it. Objectively speaking, the major barrier for rapprochement between Zagreb and Belgrade is Knin, and at this moment nobody seems to see how it can be overcome.

    The mentioned reasons, probably, made Milosevic "pack" Martic for the journey to Geneva. But, it was impossible to make any further moves. It seems that at this moment, even if they sincerely intended to, neither Milosevic, nor Martic are capable of convincing the Serbs in Knin to accept an autonomy within Croatia. As a pragmatic politician, Milosevic probably knows that the international community, including his few, even if silent allies, will never accept dismemberment of Croatia, because it actually needs it as a state in that region. However, considerable time will be necessary to impose this stance on Knin, where every politician who is concerned about his rating at all begins his speech with the phrase that return into Croatia is inconceivable.

    It is noticeable that the authorities in Belgrade avoid to discuss the need of creating an independent Serbian state on the territories controlled now by the Serbs, stressing the general platitudes about the right to self-determination. There is, therefore, no direct support for the wishes of Knin Serbs, but there is neither open pressure on them to accept to become part of Croatia again. In a way, Belgrade is in a chess stalemate, caught between the need to do something in order to alleviate the sanctions and its impotence to change the general political orientation of the Serbs it itself established in the first place.

    Impatience which is growing in Zagreb concerning solution of the question of territories which Croatia considers occupied, naturally cannot be approved by Belgrade. War drums which are getting louder after the first man of the Croatian Army, general Janko Bobetko, declared that young soldiers and officers must be ready to free the whole country when they get the orders to, bring Milosevic into an awkward position and enforces the position of radical factions in Knin.

    In such a situation, any additional "favourable signals" and calls for inter-state negotiations can hardly be expected from Belgrade, nor can there be any planned political actions directed towards pacifying the situation. War rhetorics can hardly be pleasant for the ears of the international community which is weary of the conflict in the area of former Yugoslavia.

    There are objective foundations for the presumption that Croatia is in fact in no hurry to start serious negotiations with Knin and that the authorities in Zagreb think that the agreement on ceasefire is more than sufficient. Entering into a new round of negotiations objectively implies danger of increasing political significance of the authorities in Knin on the international level. To negotiate seriously with another party means its recognition, which Zagreb is certainly trying to avoid.

    From this aspect, war rhetoric does not necessarily mean actual preparation for a military intervention. It can also be a way to postpone the whole matter, just as the longterm bargaining about matters of procedure enabled both parties to remain at their respective initial positions, without approaching the essential problem which they are both aware cannot be resolved at the moment.

    Dragan Janjich