Owen could quit Bosnia job soon: Scrapping of Vance-Owen plan seen as trade-off for US not arming Muslims

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LORD OWEN was pondering his future as mediator on Bosnia yesterday, following the allied agreement in Washington which EC sources said amounted to a tacit deal to kill the Vance-Owen peace plan.

'I'm facing a new situation following the Washington meeting and I want to talk to a number of my colleagues in Europe,' the EC mediator said in his first public response to the agreement reached at the weekend meeting, to which he and his UN partner, Thorvald Stoltenberg, were not invited.

An EC source said the Washington deal amounted to a swap: 'The Europeans obtained America's agreement to ditch its proposal to arm the Muslims. The US obtained the Europeans' agreement to ditch Vance-Owen.' A source close to Lord Owen said that were he offered a better job or one of equivalent status, he would leave soon.

Unlike Mr Stoltenberg and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who insisted the Vance-Owen plan was still alive, Lord Owen refused to comment on Bosnian Serb declarations that the plan was dead. 'My role as a negotiator stems from the European Community and I want to talk to them,' he said. ' I'll be talking to a number of people over the next few days.'

EC sources said of the Washington agreement on 'safe areas' for Muslims: 'This accord leaves a bitter taste among the citizens of Europe.' One said: 'I understand very well if Lord Owen should be contemplating his resignation. It leaves in place the Serbs' territorial gains and it makes hardly a mention of Vance-Owen.'

In the Commons yesterday there was deep Conservative unease, while Opposition MPs accused the Government of appeasement. George Robertson, the Labour spokesman, said it was 'a diplomatically phrased climb-down' in the face of Serbian rejection of Vance-Owen.

Douglas Hogg, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, admitted that fighters accused of war crimes in Bosnia may avoid trial by the tribunal to be set up under the Washington plan.

Mr Hogg said there was 'no will in the House' for the use of UK forces on the ground in Bosnia. 'What we have seen is a very dreadful crime and we were unable to reverse it in the way we had hoped,' he said.

In Belgrade, Serbian leaders rejected plans to station UN observers along the border with Bosnia, claiming their presence would violate Serbian sovereignty. The Russian deputy foreign minister, Vitaly Churkin, arrived on what appeared to be a doomed attempt to persuade them to think again.

Parliament, page 6

UN resolutions, page 9

Leading article, page 17

Andrew Marr, page 19

Diary, page 19