As a part of an “overall solution” strategy in resolving the Yugoslav crisis, and within the negotiations on delimitation between the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, serious negotiations regarding the exchange of Prevlaka and the eastern part of Konavle were taking place between 1991 and the end of 1995, and later on.
The meeting between Tuđman and Milošević in Karađorđevo, meeting in Tikveš that soon followed, as well as the meetings of expert teams of two presidents working on the "normalization of Serbian-Croatian relations" in the spring of 1991, are perceived, for the most part of the modern historiography, as the starting point of such a Croatian politics in the nineties which goal was to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina with Serbia and possibly leave a small Muslim state in the middle, which would serve as a buffer.
Although events in Bosnia and Herzegovina that followed in the winter of 1991 and in the spring of 1992 were absolutely in line with this politics, and existence of such politics was indirectly confirmed by a number of testimonies about the meetings of the two presidents, it is unlikely that Tuđman and Milosevic really agreed on the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tudjman met with Milosevic because the hostile situation was developing in Croatia, and probably to get more time and to evaluate the possible actions of Serbian politics. On the other hand, Milošević had no reason to concur with Tuđman because he had a Yugoslav People’s Army on his side; he had established autonomous regions in Croatia and had the same perspective in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The policy he was pursuing included keeping all Serbs in Yugoslavia and therefore he was unlikely willing to give up anything in favor of the weaker side.
Yet, the perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where both of them had their own ethnic communities, surely came up for discussion. Milošević's view that all Serbs are to remain in Yugoslavia and that, if BH goes independent, the Serbs will separate “their territory” and join the homeland, as they decided to do in Croatia, probably prompted Tuđman to confirm what he meant and never concealed - in that case the Croatian territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina should also be incorporated into the Croatia. He grounded his politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina on a pragmatic basis, considering that there are two possible solutions to the crisis: confederation or division. The civil state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Izetbegović advocated as a representative of the relative majority in BiH, although he always represented himself as a representative of all the Bosnian peoples, actually meant a unitary state which Tudjman could not accept, as he could not accept such an arrangement for Yugoslavia. However, as much as their politics were congruent, or precisely because of that, Tuđman and Milošević could not delimit their interests in Bosnia and Herzegovina, same as they could not in Croatia, which proves the full range of war conflicts that will follow on multiple territories in both countries, that could not have been pre-arranged and feigned.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tuđman decided to “take” the most under the circumstances, taking into account the “the situation on the ground”, the international situation and the consequences for Croatia. He did not trust either Izetbegovic or Milošević, but he cooperated with both when it suited him, nor did he hesitate to remove people from his team if they did not support his policy as he thought he understood best the “historical forces”. Because of this, Croatian politics in BH are often interpreted as controversial. The Croats in BH voted for independence in a referendum, but then created their own national state modeled on Serb’s to create the preconditions for eventually joining Croatia.
International organization peace initiatives also offered solutions on the ethnic principle, which provided additional encouragement for Serbian and Croatian politics in BiH. Thus, Carrington-Cutileiro's peace plan, as the first peace arrangement for BH, proposed the establishment of three constituent units based on national principles, whose territories were unrelated and dysfunctional to the extent that violent migrations and ethnic cleansing were the expected consequences. Along with the armed attacks that first began in the area of Posavina with the objective of the reterritorialization, initiatives to resolve the delimitation by agreement appeared. One of the most important agreements of this type was the 1992 Boban-Karadžić Agreement, which ended war conflicts between Serbs and Croats, and agreed on the demarcation and arbitration in disputed areas. One of the Bosnian Serb demands was access to the sea, which they have been demanding for since December 1991.
In addition to the demarcation in BH, within the EC Peace Conference, the issue of land and maritime borders between Montenegro and Croatia in the area of Prevlaka was also immediately opened. Considering the borders as merely “administrative”, Montenegro has also tried to resolve this issue in bilateral talks with Croatia, which was initiated immediately after the general offensive in the Dubrovnik area in which its citizens participated. Montenegrins argued that the existing border in the Prevlaka area hinders the fair and rational demarcation of the coastal and epicontinental belt and that minor corrections are needed, demanding the west cape which dominates the entrance to the Bay of Kotor. The Croatian side agreed to the border talks and during the following month, three Croatian-Montenegrin meetings were held, which resulted in an agreement that the Prevlaka question was part of the “package solution”. The package solution, which included the exchange of Prevlaka for the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, within the overall solution of the Yugoslav crisis, will be one of the fundamental determinants of any of the following negotiations on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Since Carrington-Cutileiro's peace plan was rejected, a joint peace mission of the EC and the UN was established in September 1992, bringing together representatives of the warring parties in Yugoslavia, as well as all relevant international representatives – from international organizations like the UN and the EC to diplomatic representatives of all major powers, including the United States. Under the pressure of the international community, an emergency ceasefire has been agreed, as well as an active engagement in negotiations where no advantages gained by force will be acknowledged.
The first success of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia (ICFY), co-presided by David Owen and Cyrus Vance, was the Ćosić-Tuđman Agreement, resulting in the Yugoslav Army withdrawal from Konavle on October 20th,1992 and a demilitarized zone in Prevlaka, supervised by UNPROFOR. As a part of the Agreement, however, further negotiations were planned to “resolve the issue of the overall security of Boka Kotorska and Dubrovnik”, again as a part of the “package solution” and “overall agreement”. Moreover, at the same time when the Yugoslav Army withdrew from Konavle, the Croats unexpectedly lost control over Posavina, which provoked suspicion in the Serbian-Croatian arrangement on reciprocity. Furthermore, the agreement between Ćosić and Tuđman was not binding on the Bosnian Serbs, whose army, though unsuccessful, attempted to take advantage of the situation and take control over Konavle, thus achieving the strategic goal of a sea access.
In January 1993, the Vance-Owen Peace Plan (VOPP) was introduced, proposing decentralized Bosnia and Herzegovina, consisting of ten provinces with a high level of autonomy, but without international subjectivity. The plan proposed three Muslim, Serb and Croat provisional provinces, and a special status for the capital of Sarajevo.
Croats, who sought clearly defined space within BH for themselves and did not want to concede to a civil, unitary state, immediately accepted the plan, and, after some modification, the Muslims accepted it as well. However, VOPP proposed only 43 percent of the territory for Serbs and they did not accept it, even after concessions in the form of a corridor in Posavina and despite the persuasion of “friendly countries” - Serbia, Russia, and Greece.
Even though it was not accepted, VOPP has certainly encouraged the existing war conflicts between Muslims and Croats with the objective of reterritorialization, which in the late 1992 and first half of 1993 escalated so that they spurred sharp criticism of an official Croatian politics towards BH by the international public, the opposition parties, and individuals within the HDZ. Since he never concealed the influence he had on the HDZ leadership in BH, the general opinion was that Tuđman was behind the Croatian politics in BH. The Croatian president, on the other hand, blamed the inconsistency of Muslim politics, the hypocrisy of the international community, and the misunderstanding of Croatian political leaders for the situation in BH. However, in September 1993, under the threat of international sanctions, he came to an agreement with Izetbegović to stop all hostilities, and a working group headed by the Croatian Foreign Minister has been put in charge of territorial delimitations in BH. Although he was forced into the agreement with Izetbegovic, Tuđman was satisfied in the end, for simultaneously a secret agreement on the development of a common Muslim-Croat state in BH, which would enter into a confederation with Croatia, was signed. The Declaration was unquestionably satisfactory for Izetbegovic too; as he secured the territorial scope he waged war for the previous year. Judging by the declaration he signed only two days later with Serbs, on the Serbian territory in BH, giving them the right to decide by referendum whether to remain in the Union or to leave within two years, Izetbegovic did not count in the future either.
Following the collapse of the VOPP, a new peace arrangement for BH was jointly rendered by Serbs and Croats and shaped into the Plan of the Union of Three Republics. In fact, it proposed three ethnic units, interconnected on a confederal model, but within the common state. It was the return to the idea of BH cantonization and the foundation for all future plans until the American takeover of the Dayton Peace Initiative.
Although the Muslim side was not satisfied with the idea of the ethnic division of the state, the co-presidents decided to pressure Croats and Serbs to offer Izetbegović an ethnic state that would be acceptable, which meant 30 percent of the territory of BH and the access to the sea and Sava river.
While the first requirement was to be met by Croats and Serbs jointly, the other two were expected to be satisfied by the Croatian side, from which the territory of the Republic of Croatia over Brčko was demanded, the southernmost border of the future Muslim Republic, the free zone at Port of Ploče, and the sea access in the territory of the Neum Municipality - on what Muslims insisted, and the Croats were not ready to give.
On the other hand, the Bosnian Serbs were to satisfy their aspirations for the sea access in the west of Prevlaka, while the Montenegrins were still demanding border adjustments to secure the Bay of Boka. In exchange, Croatia was offered the Dubrovnik hinterland, which was also the topic of negotiations regarding the concession of the Croatian territory north of Brčko for the Muslim port on the river Sava. Despite the officially proclaimed policy of immutability of borders, Tuđman was ready to talk about the concession, though “the very tip” of Prevlaka, but only as a part of the overall agreement with the Serbs and certainly not within the arrangement of the Muslim access to Sava River.
Although a new package of peace plans was formally rejected by Muslims due to territorial objections, including the sea access in Neum, it was the constitutional solution that was essentially unacceptable to them.
As a result of the peace declarations between Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and then Muslims and Serbs, the ICFY's co-chairmen organized a meeting on the British carrier Invincible and, together with the leaders of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian peoples, invited the presidents Tuđman, Milošević, and Bulatović. The meeting was organized in order to align the positions of all parties in intensive negotiations and to try and reach an agreement for a peaceful resolution of the Yugoslav crisis. Although nothing was signed on Invincible, the agreements reached were the basis for further negotiations, which were 53 percent of the territory for the Serbs, 30 percent for the Muslims and 17 percent for the Croats, and the right of all republics to a referendum decision on eventual secession within two years.
As expected, one of the basic questions that were discussed at Invincible was the right to the sea access for the Muslim and Serbian state in BH. Muslim right was resolved through the joint Croatian-Muslim administration in the tourist complex in the area of Kosa on the Klek peninsula, with Tuđman agreeing to a condition that he had sharply refused previously: that the majority Muslim state retains the territory in the event of the Union's collapse. Along with the concessions in the area of Neum Municipality, the port on River Neretva was also offered to Muslims, 5 kilometers southwards than Croatia was earlier ready to agree, and the 99-year lease of separate port facilities in the Port of Ploče.
The questions of the Serb access to the sea, as well as the security of the Bay of Kotor, insisted upon by the Montenegrins, were also addressed on the Invincible by talks regarding territory exchange from Molunat to the Cape Oštro for the Dubrovnik hinterland, on the principle ''meter per meter'', but the agreement was again conditioned by the normalization of Serbian-Croatian relations.
Based on the agreement from Invincible, a new version of the Owen-Stoltenberg plan was drafted, in which, along with other changes, the municipality of Neum was placed under the direct sovereignty of the Union in order to be accessible to all citizens.
Despite all the concessions he only agreed to achieve agreement, Tuđman was still skeptical about the Serbian-Muslim political agenda, and he was concerned about the implementation of the territorial concessions he had agreed to, due to the possible consequences for the reintegration of Serb areas in Croatia. He was also under strong pressure because of his politics in BH, on which he usually responded with peace initiatives of minor success towards Muslims, who in the meantime promoted their national name Bosniaks, which will officially come to use at the beginning of next year.
Muslims, however, conditioned the acceptance of the Plan by the return of territories seized by force. In fact, 30 percent of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina was not enough for them, and military successes against Croats encouraged them to "strengthen their position on the ground".
Croats and Serbs reacted by withdrawing all agreed concessions, and the international community with a new peace plan proposal that would be agreed upon within the overall regional settlement.
As a part of the EU Action Plan, Croats and Serbs were asked to insure 33 percent of the territory for the Muslim state, and from Croatia and additional territorial concessions for Bosnian Muslims and Serbs. While Croats and Serbs have managed to agree on a map that will provide Muslims with 33.5 percent of the territory and another 17.5 percent of the territory for Croats, which Tuđman insisted on for all the concessions he was forced to, and thus actually divided BH in a ratio of 51:49 percent, about the Muslim access to the sea, no agreement has been reached.
Muslims continued to insist on Neum, seeking sovereignty of the Klek peninsula and joint administration with the majority Croatian state in the Neum municipality, threatening with military actions. However, for Tuđman, every solution was better than breaking the Croatian territory in Neum. Therefore, he offered several alternative solutions to the Muslims, primarily in Konavle, where he could jointly solve the Muslim and Serbian access to the sea, and also on Pelješac.
The Muslim access to the sea in Konavle was actually idea of Owen and Stoltenberg and at first it extended from Popovići to Mikulići, including both villages. Croatian side modified this proposal by offering Muslims access to the sea in Molunat, and the Bosnian Serbs between Vitaljina and the tip of the Prevlaka, which was supposed to be part of Montenegro; although, Croatia was willing to agree that Serbs and Muslims divide the territory south of Mikulići. The proposal also included a corridor, two kilometers wide from Stolac to Konavle, through the Dubrovnik hinterland, which suited Tuđman as a buffer zone between the Croatian and Serbian states in BH, and beside that, as a return concession, he demanded Neum, the Dubrovnik hinterland and normalization of relations with Serbia – which meant the reintegration of Serb areas in Croatia into the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia.
Since the Muslims, despite the serious Croatian campaign in which it was tried to persuade them to accept the "Southern solution", still refuted Konavle with the explanation that such a solution was too expensive and too complicated, Tuđman offered a new possibility of sea access on Pelješac by leasing its seaside resorts and a concession over a seven-kilometer long coastline. In that case, Croatia would be ready to relinquish territories from Prevlaka to Molunat to Serbs, provided however that the entire territory of Popovo Polje was further ceded to Croatia. The opening of the official representations of FR Yugoslavia in Zagreb and Croatia in Belgrade in January 1994 was a step towards mutual recognition and a prerequisite for the exchange of territories discussed for two years.
In all likelihood, for Tuđman in agreement with the Muslims, it was important to ensure the territory of Neum in the event of the Union's breakup, which he thought was a serious possibility, as well as the right of the majority Croatian republic to secede, if Serb Republic did the same. In relation to the Serbs, on the other hand, it was important to him to achieve a solution that would include the peaceful reintegration of the occupied Croatian areas, which – he was convinced – would be a good enough argument for the Croatian public to accept the territorial concessions he was prepared for.
At the beginning of 1994, the United States took over the lead role in the peace negotiations in BH, under which the Washington Agreements on the establishment of a common Croatian-Bosniac republic, called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its confederal connection with Croatia was enacted. For Tuđman, the Washington Agreements were valuable because their signing required the reintegration of the UNPA zones into the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia, reconstruction assistance, loans, and accession to the Partnership for Peace. Since the Croatian people in BH were very reluctant to support the newly formed community, the Croatian state leadership convinced them that the federation without confederation would not survive, and from the international community enactment of the confederation agreement was repeatedly demanded. The Confederation Agreement, however, has never been enacted and with the adoption of the Dayton Agreement, it formally ceased to exist, while the implementation of the Federation Agreement ran slowly and with a mutual distrust of the two ethnic communities.
Washington Agreements, however, did not mean that the US administration would ensure the preservation of the undivided BH or at least insist on the territories where the Bosniaks and Croats lived before the war, as proposed in the Criteria for determining the territory of the Federation, since it was immediately proposed to resume negotiations on demarcation with Bosnian Serbs in the ratio of 51:49 percent of the territory as a "compromise between justice and reality". New negotiations took place under the patronage of the Contact Group, which, except the USA, consisted of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia. BH is devised as a unique country – a union of two republics, whose entities will be linked through mutually agreed constitutional principles and will have a very high level of governmental functions and powers. A precise demarcation map was also made and it was threatened by the decisive actions of the international community for those who would eventually reject the Plan.
Although they considered it unjust, the Contact Group Plan was accepted by the Croat and Bosniak sides, while the Serbs rejected it because it demanded withdrawal from one-third of the territories they won, which was responded to by tightening sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro, Milošević's ending the political and economic relations with Pale and ultimately, NATO bombing the Serb positions around Sarajevo.
The Federation Agreement, however, did not mean ending the negotiations on the territorial exchange in the area of Prevlaka and the eastern part of Konavle. Although the Contact Group did not officially want to discuss territorial exchanges outside of BH, Lord Owen worked in co-operation with the French, British and Russian on a complete solution to the Yugoslav crisis that included Croatian territorial concessions.
Bosnian Serbs continued insisting on their access to the sea, referring to the previous arrangements with the Croatian president and seeking the whole area east of Molunat, as the Bosniaks got Neum. This issue was actually one of the most important in the negotiations, but the Croatian president was ready to exchange territories in Konavle only within the framework of a mutual recognition agreement between Croatia and the FR Yugoslavia. Since Milošević, despite the initial concern about the accusations of selling out Krajina, has nevertheless shown the will to recognize Croatia in internationally recognized borders, Lord Owen made another map in February 1994, envisaging the exchange of territory between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro by a standard pattern: Prevlaka to Molunat for the Dubrovnik hinterland.
The ending of the UNPROFOR mission and the establishment of UNCRO, as well as the Croatian military actions during the spring and summer of 1995, in which all occupied territories except the Sector East were freed, encouraged Montenegrins to negotiate with Croatia on demarcation, and Milošević to assert that he only asks for Prevlaka, and has no other territorial pretensions. But, under the impression of the success of the liberation actions, Croatian political leadership said no exchange of territories is possible.
At the same time, President Clinton decides on another, possibly last attempt to mediate peace in the former Yugoslavia. In agreement with the EU countries and on the basis of the Contact Group Plan, talks at the American military base, Wright-Patterson in Dayton started less than three months later.
After three weeks of intense negotiations, the main peace arrangement and 11 annexes for Bosnia and Herzegovina were agreed, with the prior signing of the agreement on a peaceful reintegration of the Hrvatsko Podunavlje and the Agreement on the Establishment of a Joint Cooperation Council between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic and Federation of BH, that in fact suspended the Confederation Agreement between the two republics, signed in Washington.
But it was not the only Washington principle that was abandoned. The Dayton Agreement confirmed the existence of two entities that were in fact given the state status, and the Serb Republic was left with the territories that were, in the meantime, ethnically cleansed from the Bosniaks and Croats, which was in a direct collision with Washington and Vienna Agreements, agreed upon under US mediation in the previous year. Additionally, the Federation had to “return” the Serb Republic about 5 percent of the territory, which the forces under the control of the Government of BiH won previously, so that the division of the territory is according to the, 51 to 49 percent.
But the Plan of the Contact Group as the basis for the negotiations was used selectively. Thus, the BH delegation was under “intolerable pressures” to retreat from the Contact Group map and cede Bosanska Posavina to the Serbs for the Northern Corridor. In the end, it was done, probably thanks to a face to face agreement between Milošević and Tuđman, who decided to sacrifice Posavina for peace in Croatia and the integration of the Sector East, what the Croatian official politics was ready to do already in late 1993.
The question of Brčko in Dayton has not been solved, but left for international arbitration, and no agreement has been reached on Prevlaka, with which Milošević conditioned the normalization of relations between Croatia and the FR Yugoslavia.
The Montenegrins in Dayton also insisted on the territorial closure of the Bay of Kotor, and Milošević additionally sought out the sea access for the Bosnian Serbs - first unto Popovici and then unto Molunat. In this sense, the General Framework Agreement on the Tripartite Territorial Exchange and the Delimitation of State Borders between the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Serb Republic was drafted, by which Croatia should have obtained a territory in the hinterland of Dubrovnik, Serb Republic suitable sea access and Montenegro Prevlaka, with the exchange of territories carried out on a basis hectare per hectare.
While the Yugoslav side argues that the Agreement was agreed upon and initialed, and only the place and time of official signing had to be determined, Granić testified that the Croatian side did not seriously negotiate on Prevlaka, but only resorted to tactics because the issue of Prevlaka was highlighted by the Yugoslav delegation as the basic condition for normalization of relations.
Granić is probably telling the truth, since a copy of the Agreement that Bulatovic brings in his memoir Rules of Silence, as well as copies in The Hague Tribunal's evidence documentation, does not have either initials or a signature. But there is a question as to why Tuđman, in the midst of the Dayton negotiations, again – and very seriously – announced the possibility of exchanging the Prevlaka for the Dubrovnik hinterland, which has been the topic of secret negotiations for four years.
Since the peaceful reintegration of the Hrvatsko Podunavlje with Milošević had already been agreed and then signed, ceding Prevlaka was no longer needed for an “overall solution” as previously argued, and Dubrovnik's hinterland was the territory of the Federation. However, Tuđman was, in all likelihood, more inclined to have his own territory in the hinterland than the territory of the Federation, which he did not really believe in, since he sought to keep all of HR Herceg-Bosna institutions until the creation of such a “federation that guarantees the sovereignty of Croatian people “.
Unlike Tuđman, it seems that the rest of the Croatian delegation headed by Granić was not for the exchange, as Bulatović concluded. When the Agreement was left for "further consideration" and subsequent signing, Granić was given a precious time in which the Croatian public would once again sharply reject any deviation from territorial integrity.
At the end of the Dayton negotiations, Tuđman spoke exclusively of the “tip of Prevlaka” in the sense of possible exchanges in order to achieve peace, but stressed that this is not only a Croatian problem, since it is not all the same who will be using the harbor if it is “in Serbian hands”, while on the Serb Republic access to the sea he no longer wanted to negotiate.
In an attempt to reach an agreement on the normalization of relations with the FR Yugoslavia, Croatia proposed international arbitration, and afterward demilitarization of the wider area of Prevlaka, and in the spring of 1996, Montenegro agreed to resolve the status of Prevlaka without territorial exchange. In August, the Agreement on full normalization and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was finally signed, in which it was agreed that the two countries would in bilateral negotiations resolve the “controversial issue of Prevlaka”, thereby contributing to the complete security of the Dubrovnik region and the Bay of Kotor. The Yugoslav side will continue to insist on the land demarcation at Prevlaka, with which they will also condition the opening of the border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro, which was opened only in January 1999, thanks to direct negotiations between Zagreb and Podgorica.
However, it will take almost four years to sign the Provisional Regime Protocol along the southern border between Croatia and the FR Yugoslavia, thanks to which the ten-year UN observation mission at Prevlaka has been completed, and Croatia has included the rest of its territory in its constitutional and legal order. The protocol is, however, very unfavorable to Croatia since Croatia's control over the land territory of Prevlaka is defined as “provisional jurisdiction”, while the demarcation on the sea is made to its gross detriment. But it will be in effect until Croatia and Montenegro agree otherwise.
Although the access to the archive material produced during Dr. Franjo Tudjman’s presidency would certainly shed an additional light to the chronology of the events in the negotiations regarding the exchange of Prevlaka and the eastern part of Konavle, as well as the views of the Croatian state leadership, but also of all the other protagonists, from the available material it is clear that Franjo Tuđman and his close associates were ready to exchange the territory in the far south of Croatia and have been seriously negotiating for a full four years. For Prevlaka and the eastern part of Konavle, scope of which changed depending on the course of peace negotiations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia sought a territory in the Dubrovnik hinterland that would guarantee Dubrovnik's security, the Neum Municipality as a guarantee of continuity of the Croatian state territory and an agreement on normalization of relations between Croatia and FR Yugoslavia, which meant mutual recognition in internationally recognized borders.. Croatia abandoned the idea of the exchange only after the deal about reintegration of the last part of the occupied territory, with the help of the United States.