Owen begs US to hold its fire in Bosnia: Serbian leader signs peace plan, but America demands to see an end to the fighting

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, yesterday bowed to intense

international pressure and signed the Vance-Owen peace plan at an Athens conference billed as the last chance to avert Western military intervention in the former Yugoslavia.

Lord Owen, the EC mediator and co- chairman of the conference, called on the United States to relinquish plans for military intervention and give his peace deal time to work. 'The time has come to set aside military options,' he declared. 'Now is the time to talk of peace and not war.'

However, the US signalled that it will continue drumming up international support for military intervention in Bosnia, including air strikes and an end to the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims.

In the mountains around Sarajevo, Bosnian Serb gunners responded to the news from Athens by bombarding the city, killing five people, hospital sources said.

As the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, began consultations with John Major and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, President Bill Clinton told congressional leaders that he would continue pressing for military action until Mr Karadzic's words were proven with deeds: 'We will judge intentions by actions.'

Mr Christopher, beginning a tour of allied capitals, said that the Bosnian Serbs had to stop shelling Muslim towns in Bosnia and permit the flow of humanitarian aid if they wanted to avert the threat of international military action against them.

Downing Street issued a statement after the talks saying that the US and Britain were moving towards 'a common position' on military steps to be taken if the Serbs failed to implement the peace agreement.

Mr Karadzic was persuaded to put his name to the peace plan after spending most of the Athens conference on Saturday night and Sunday morning locked in a hotel room with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. The Greek President, Constantine Mitsotakis, made it clear to him that Washington had detailed plans for military action. Conference sources said those included striking targets in Serbia proper.

Mr Karadzic's signature is conditional on the Bosnian Serb assembly's support for the plan when it meets on Wednesday in Pale. Serb sources said last night that Mr Karadzic, who risks being considered a traitor, feared for his life when he returns to urge the assembly to pass the plan. They said he would be escorted to the assembly by Mr Milosevic and the Federal Yugoslav president, Dobrica Cosic.

The mood among Bosnian Serbs has gone from outrage and indignation over Belgrade's insistence on accepting the peace plan to dark resignation. Mr Karadzic faces a very hard sell. 'As far as signing is concerned, no one is going to obey,' said Marina Radkovic, the chief of protocol for the Bosnian Serb parliament. 'The choice we are being asked to make is one between commiting suicide or being killed.'

One of the elements to which the Bosnian Serbs have now agreed is the creation of an interim central government for Bosnia to be chaired by Muslims, Serbs and Croats in rotation - abolishing the self- declared separate Serbian state within Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs are to be granted a six-mile wide, internationally policed corridor linking Serb-controlled areas.

Mr Milosevic told Serbian television last night that he was confident that the assembly would ratify the plan, especially once people had a chance to see it. He also said those Serbs who advocate 'suicidal options', 'must be banned from official functions'.

'The only place for them is a mental hospital,' he said.

Lord Owen called on the Americans to join the Canadians, British and French in contributing to the international peace- keeping effort in Bosnia. Should the peace plan be implemented, up to 70,000 international peace-keepers may be required. Lord Owen said the long-term aim of the plan was 'for the people of Bosnia to live together, intermarry, share the same apartments and generally live together in the way they did before these horrors began'.

Interviewed on BBC television's On the Record, he turned on his interviewer, saying: 'Look, come off it now, you've all had your time on bombing. Now let's talk about peace and how you implement a peace plan.'

Speaking before Mr Christopher arrived at Chevening, in Kent, for talks with the Prime Minister, Mr Hurd, and Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Owen said that although it was right to be cautious - in view of the many lies he had been told over the past eight months - they had reached 'a comprehensive settlement for stitching a country together that's been torn apart and ravaged by war'.

He added: 'The key question is to talk about implementation and I'm sure that's what will have to happen in Warren Christopher's turn round Europe this time, and also when he goes to Moscow. That's what the UN and the world expects now.'

Karadzic caves in, page 6

Leading article, page 15