Owen seeks a new mandate

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EUROPEAN COMMUNITY foreign ministers met in emergency session late last night, insisting that despite the death of the Vance-Owen peace plan they would not sanction the effective partition of Bosnia by force.

The meeting was requested by the EC envoy David Owen, who said: 'There is no need for us to hang our heads in shame. This is a civil war in which we are trying to keep the parties round the negotiating table, but if they want to go on fighting we should not feel guilty.'

He had come to Copenhagen, he said, to find out from the EC 'what the bottom line is', particularly over the lifting of sanctions, the weapon with which the EC hopes to extract guarantees for the Muslims, since it is already clear the Community has little option but to accept the carve-up of Bosnia by Serbia and Croatia.

Lord Owen is seeking an EC mandate to fight on for the main principles salvaged from the Vance-Owen plan in his subsequent negotiations with the three parties, but has already said that ensuring the preservation of a Muslim state in Bosnia, big enough to be viable, will be difficult.

With all EC member states ruling out direct force, it was being slowly acknowledged last night that beyond pressing for democratic elections, internationally monitored, and insisting on the establishment of a war crimes tribunal, EC policy is essentially one of containment, though Luxembourg spoke optimistically of 'cantonising' Bosnia into three autonomous territories in a single state.

Felipe Gonzalez, the Spanish Prime Minister, whose peace-keeping contingent suffered further casualties yesterday, warned that acquiescing to 'the territorial partition by force would . . . create unimaginable precedents'. The Danish Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, said: 'Using power to change territorial frontiers is not acceptable.'

Behind the scenes, there was criticism of the Washington accord and the EC states - Britain and France - that signed it as UN Security Council members. Critics say that, by establishing the concept of 'safe areas', the accord implicitly accepted territorial gains by Croatia and Serbia.

'The accord de facto accepted the partition of Bosnia. If you are asking 'is there any way to roll things back' the answer is probably not,' said Britain's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, John Cunningham.

Mr Rasmussen said the civil war in Europe 'cast a shadow over the summit proceedings' but he was clearly keen to ensure debate on Yugoslavia did not detract from the headline summit debate on how to stimulate growth and combat unemployment.