Serbs stand out against peace plan

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The Independent Online
THE GENEVA peace conference on Bosnia broke off without agreement yesterday as arguments raged between the republic's Muslim-led government and its Bosnian Serb enemies. But an aide to the republic's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, said the talks would resume in the Swiss city next Sunday.

Lord Owen and his fellow mediator Cyrus Vance told a news conference that the Bosnian Croat leader, Mate Boban, had signed the package of proposals which includes political and military accords and a map dividing Bosnia into 10 new provinces. But while President Izetbegovic had accepted the first two but not the map, Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, had declined to accept anything yet.

Lord Owen said the Serbs were still aiming at 'a state within a state' which would not be a genuine part of Bosnia. This, he said, 'is impossible to deliver in terms of the international community'.

As the rival delegations traded charge and counter-charge in Geneva, their military forces continued to do battle across Bosnia.

Bosnian radio reported artillery and infantry attacks near the Muslim-controlled northern town of Gradacac, which has been under Serbian siege for eight months. The radio also reported shelling on the nearby road from Doboj to Teslic, which is under Bosnian government control.

United Nations officials said the Muslims and Serbs had made incompatible demands at the conference, which many governments see as the last chance to avoid Western intervention in the Bosnian war. One dispute concerned the shape of the 10 provinces foreseen under the peace plan presented last Saturday. Another concerned the distribution of political power between the provinces and the central Bosnian government.

Mr Izetbegovic also said that his government saw no point in continuing the talks unless the Bosnian Serbs placed their heavy weapons under UN control. 'The Serbs can't say they are for peace and at the same time be against the removal of heavy weapons,' he said.

Mr Vance, who co-chaired the peace conference with Lord Owen, insisted that the Muslims, Croats and Serbs should all immediately accept the 10 principles for a Bosnian constitution that the mediators put forward last Saturday. The main principles are that post-war Bosnia would be a decentralised state in which most powers rest with the 10 provinces, and that minority ethnic communities would be protected.

The Croats have generally welcomed the proposals, but the Bosnian Muslims, who were the largest nationality before the war with 44 per cent of the 4.4 million people, and who have suffered greatest losses during the nine months of fighting, suspect that a settlement is being imposed at their expense.

Mr Izetbegovic, fearful that the proposals leave the central government too weak, and concerned that Bosnia's Serbs and Croats will try to unite with Serbia and Croatia in the future, demanded an amendment stipulating that the republic is an independent, sovereign, democratic and internationally recognised state. He also asked for 'very significant corrections' to the map showing the 10 new provinces, on the ground that it appeared to condone Serbian and Croatian territorial gains.

The Serbs control about 70 per cent of Bosnia and would keep about half the republic under the Geneva plan. The Croats would keep western Herzegovina, which has already been turned into a virtual province of Croatia.

Mr Izetbegovic said he was not asking for Western ground troops to help the Bosnian Muslims. 'We refer to an action that will eliminate the technical advantage of the enemy. We refer to the destruction of their heavy weapons, tanks, aircraft. We are speaking of air strikes. . . . We have enough of our own boys ready to fight. They don't have weapons, but they'll get weapons in whichever way.'

British Royal Marines skilled in winter warfare have been withheld from their annual exercises in Norway next month amid reports that they are being put on stand-by for possible deployment in Bosnia, Reuter reports.

The Ministry of Defence said 'a small number' of marines and military helicopters were involved but would not say whether they were being kept in readiness for the former Yugoslav republic.

Mapping Bosnia's future, page 8

Letters, page 16