However, the Muslims were faced with stark choices when Serbian and Croatian leaders offered few concessions and held out the prospect of a war without pity stretching into the next Balkan winter. Asked what would happen if the Muslims rejected the plan, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, replied simply: 'Then God help us all.'
All three parties to the conflict agreed to take the plans and a map of the proposed new republics back to their supporters for approval. They will return to Geneva on Monday 30 August. President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, whose political and military might sustains the Bosnian Serbs, said the plan was 'an honest and fair compromise'. President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, the other external powerbroker, said: 'I think it's the agreement to end the war.'
But the Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, was not pleased by the outcome and his spokesman said: 'We are not satisfied so we will not recommend it.' The Muslims said it made no provision to meet their demands that the sieges of Sarajevo and Mostar be lifted at once. 'According to this proposal, the Serbs will not give up ethnically cleansed territories which were taken by force,' the Bosnian delegation said in a statement.
Exhaustive bargaining yesterday finally yielded an outline of the new Bosnia that preserved the Muslim enclaves in the east, gave the Muslim state access to the sea through Croat-controlled territory and placed Sarajevo under United Nations control.
Mr Karadzic, said he would recommend this 'painful compromise' to the self-styled parliament of his future Serbian republic. The Bosnian Croat chief, Mate Boban, is expected to apply a rubber stamp to the proposals, since pretensions to debate within his fiefdom are slight.
After the talks, Lord Owen admitted the map gave the Muslims fewer concessions than he would have liked. 'It's not ideal. If we thought we could have got more concessions . . . we would have done,' he said.
Lord Owen and his co-chairman, Thorvald Stoltenberg, are to go to New York to brief the UN Security Council before the parties return to Geneva.
Under the plan, the future Bosnia would contain roughly 52 per cent Serb territory, 30 per cent Muslim and 18 per cent for the Croats. The union of the three republics would continue to be a member of the UN and some small areas would be administered by all three sides. However, Lord Owen pointed out yesterday that much of the Serb-designated territory was rural, while there was a higher concentration of industrial areas in the Muslim sectors.
The negotiators had taken an obviously unhappy President Izetbegovic through the dismal choices available to the Bosnian government. 'We went through the options facing him amd made it very clear to him that it was his country, his people, and his choice,' said Lord Owen.
Mr Stoltenberg said there was no ideal solution. He estimated that about 40,000 troops would be needed to enforce the proposed arrangements.
It is possible that Mr Izetbegovic may now try to take his cause one last time to the United States. But Lord Owen said yesterday that there was little chance that the outline agreement could be renegotiated.
Lord Owen noted that the plans provide for human rights guarantees and he said the international community had to ensure that war criminals were brought to trial. He would be urging the UN and the EC to commit sufficient resources and men to make sure that the plan, if accepted, had every chance of being put into practice.
The mediators have asked the European Community to consider taking charge of the southern town of Mostar, where fighting is raging between Muslim and Croatian forces. The idea would be to place the town under EC administration in the same way that Sarajevo is to be UN-governed.
Croatian forces have agreed to let a UN emergency aid convoy enter the sealed-off Muslim quarter of Mostar today for the first time in two months, UN officials said last night. There are 35,000 Muslims trapped in the ghetto desperate for food, fuel and water.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday that up to 15,000 Muslims were being held by Croats, often in appalling conditions. Detainees were forced to dig trenches under fire, mosques had been burnt, homes looted and women raped.
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