Muslims denounce 'betrayal' of Bosnia: Serbs delighted after Western 'safe areas' plan abandons Vance-Owen and holds out prospect of a carve-up

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BOSNIA yesterday condemned as a betrayal an international plan to deploy United Nations troops around so-called 'safe areas', claiming it would freeze Serbian war gains and strand thousands of Muslims in nothing better than detention camps.

The initiative, put forward on Saturday by the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Spain, appeared in effect to ditch the Vance-Owen peace plan. It raises the prospect that Bosnia, a state which the West recognised last year within its pre-war borders, will eventually be partitioned between the Serbs and Croats.

The plan was greeted with delight by the Serbian press, but denounced in the US by an influential Democrat, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. 'We are legitimising genocide,' he said. 'The moral basis of the world order has been weakened as it hasn't been since the 1930s.'

The Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, saying the allied plan amounts to writing off Bosnia and ratifying the status quo, urged President Bill Clinton to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia and not let Russia and the European allies stand in the way.

In a broadcast, the disconsolate Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovic, said he would 'turn to our people, to all our citizens who love this country and call on them to unite . . . to defend a sovereign and independent Bosnia-Herzegovina.'

A government statement lashed Western 'procrastination and the complete ineffectiveness of the international community' for encouraging Serb attacks.

To rub salt into Bosnian Muslim wounds, the new plan makes clear that a US offer to protect the 'safe areas' in Bosnia is intended only to safeguard the lives of UN troops patrolling the zones and not the lives of the tens of thousands of Muslims trapped inside.

Bosnia's Serbs were jubilant. Radovan Karadzic, their leader, praised the 'more realistic approach' adopted by Western countries and promised to comply with their demands. He added: 'The reality is that Bosnia- Herzegovina is already divided.'

The Serbian authorities, too, are having difficulty concealing their joy. Headlines in the pro-government Politika newspaper lauded 'Western action for creating peace in Bosnia'. For the first time there was no carping about plots against Serbia.

Around Sarajevo, Bosnian Serbs celebrated in a familiar style, by pounding the besieged city more severely than for many weeks. At least 10 people were killed by Serbian shelling over the weekend and 100 wounded, including the deputy prime minister, Zlatko Lagumdzija.

The new plan aims to deploy monitors on the border between Serbia and Bosnia, send more troops to UN-declared Muslim 'safe areas', tighten the sanctions noose around the rump Yugoslavia, form a war-crimes tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, put UN observers in the Serbian province of Kosovo and beef up the UN presence in Macedonia.

The plan marks a US retreat from earlier demands to arm the Bosnian government and roll back Serbian conquests. It backs off from the idea of bombing Bosnian Serbs to persuade them to withdraw from their present positions. The foreign ministers also said the primary responsibility for sealing the Bosnian-Serbian border rested with the Belgrade authorities. An earlier Russian proposal called on the UN to deploy the monitors whether Belgrade agreed or not. Now the permission of the rump Yugoslav authorities will be mandatory before any action can be taken.

Although they have not admitted it, the allies have dumped the Vance- Owen plan to divide Bosnia into 10 ethnic-based provinces, after the Serbs made it clear they will not hand back any territory.

Mr Clinton himself sounded less than enthusiastic about the agreement.

'At least we're together again,' he said of the accord, which papers over weeks of transatlantic feuding on how to deal with the Bosnian crisis. The pact, he said, was 'a step towards ending ethnic cleansing and slaughter', would prevent the US from being dragged into a 'quagmire' akin to Vietnam and strengthen the chances of containing the conflict within Bosnia's borders.