The attempt to keep Bosnia intact under a federal state was finally abandoned in May 1993 when the Bosnian Serbs rejected the Vance-Owen peace plan.
Aggression from the Bosnian Serbs led to the mass killing or expulsion of Muslims from their homes and directed to enclaves for shelter where the UN and private aid agencies were routinely refused access to. In the eastern town of Srebrenica, aid convoys were refused entry for months on end.
The Serb military captured villages to sever the links between Srebrenica and Zepa and reduced the size of the Srebrenica enclave at the same time that the Muslims were forced from their homes and converged Srebrenica, swelling its population to between 50,000 and 60,000 people. In March 1993, General Morillon, Commander of the UNPROFOR visited Srebrenica as part of an aid convoy. Serb forces refused to allow him to enter to feed the enemy until eventually he was allowed to enter without the food supplies. Once inside he could finally see the effects of the ethnic cleansing. He found no running water, overcrowding and scarce food, electricity and medical supplies. Once inside the Muslims, in their frustration that nothing was being done and in a bid to generate interest, captured Morillon and prevented him from leaving.
Morillon declared that the town of Srebrenica was under UN protection. The UN, a neutral entity had now publicly taken a side in the conflict, changing UN policy. As a result, the Security Council designated six towns to be safe areas in May 1993; Srebrenica, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Gorazde, Bihac and Zepa. These were to be free from armed attacks and it was under the UNPROFOR mandate to secure these safe areas. However, without the necessary troops on the ground, these areas were not protected. At the same time, in anticipation of the acceptance of the Vance-Owen peace plan, Bosnian Croats started to move against Muslims in Hercegovina and intense fighting broke out. Mostar was virtually destroyed during the siege, where atrocities from both Muslims and Bosnian Croats were carried out, yet received little media attention.
In 1993 several thousand Bosnian Muslims were evacuated to Srebrenica under the support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which were opposed by the Bosnian Government as contributing to the ethnic cleansing. Serb forces, under General Mladic, informed UNHCR representatives that they would attack the town of Srebrenica unless the Muslims agreed to be evacuated. The Bosnian Muslims refused to surrender. However, with the Bosnian Serbs controlling what aid came in and out of the camp soon many died or were dying from malnutrition. The ‘safe areas’ for the Muslims were in fact concentration camps for the Bosnian Serbs.
UN mediators Thorvald Stoltenberg and David Owen proposed a new plan with the backing of Milosevic and Tudjman. The idea was to carve Bosnia into three ethnic mini-states, giving Bosnian Serbs 52% of Bosnia’s territory, Muslims 30% and Bosnian Croats 18%. The core problem was, as the case with all of the peace plans presented throughout the Bosnian crisis, how to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to surrender enough territory for the Bosnian government to conceive of a viable and honourable state.
Lord Owen summoned all parties to Greece for peace talks in May 1993. Izetgebovic and Tudjman had already agreed to the plan, leaving only the Bosnian Serbs. However, Owen was confident that Milosevic would be able to get Karadzic to sign the agreement. Eventually he did and the agreement was signed under the condition that the Bosnian Serb Assembly approved of the plan. During the Bosnian Serb assembly, Karadzic admitted that some of the terms of the plan were hard to swallow but agreed that to continue fighting would be much worse. However, General Mladic firmly rejected the peace plan and illustrated with maps how the Bosnian Serbs would lose more territory with the proposed plan that they had already gained. As a result, they voted to reject the plan and therefore the final opportunity to unite a multi-ethnic Bosnia. Instead the Serbs continued to build their independent state.
Eventually by November 1993 it was accepted that Serbia would give up some of its conquered territory in exchange for easing the international sanctions. The security council had imposed these sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro in 1992 in response to aggression in Bosnia. It was clear that the sanctions were having a significant effect on their economies, no more obvious than when Milosevic changed his focus to the lifting of the sanctions over gaining more territory.
The US decided it was time to act and NATO finally put its air power at the disposal of the UN in early 1994. Tudjman was warned he would face sanctions if they didn’t stop the fighting. He accepted the agreement with the Muslims and they signed an alliance to end their fighting.