Three factions agree division of Bosnia: Milosevic hails Geneva deal as 'big step towards peace' but borders still to be settled

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THREE sides in the Bosnian conflict assented in Geneva last night to a plan creating Serbian, Croatian and Muslim ethnic units in a 'Union of Republics', a move hailed by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia as 'the biggest step towards peace we ever made'.

The parties still have to reach agreement on a map dividing the territory and details of a court to protect human rights. 'Nobody's celebrating upstairs,' said a conference official.

Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, described the deal as 'preliminary', saying territorial division remained 'the most difficult part of the job'. He added: 'We do not regard ourselves as being authorised to sign anything, and what we might initial here we shall put before the parliament and ask it to ratify or not.'

None the less, emerging from the talks, President Milosevic said the negotiations had been crowned by 'a great success . . . . It is a realistic, honest and fair plan and the formula protects the interests of all three sides'

A statement from the conference co-chairmen, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, said the agreement had been reached 'after intensive discussion on a number of drafts'.

The draft document before the three sides defined the new Bosnia as made up of 'three constituent republics'. There would be one national flag but dual citizenship would be permitted. That clause was likely to raise Muslim resistance as it would invite Serbs and Croats to hold passports issued by Belgrade and Zagreb.

The document somewhat optimistically called for the new Bosnia to be disarmed: none of the three republics would maintain any military force. It also dispensed with border controls between the republics and provided for the free movement of goods, services and people.

All those requirements remained so far from present conditions that some diplomats thought the document could be signed by all sides in the knowledge that it will never be put into practice. It was still unclear last night whether the agreed text had resolved those problems.

International lawyers employed by the Bosnian government had prepared a withering critique of the proposals, focusing on an article stating that major foreign policy decisions could be adopted by a 70 per cent majority of a future parliament. Such a majority could never be obtained, the lawyers held.

The lawyers also criticised what they called the absence of 'meaningful methods' to protect human rights. Their critique portrayed a future Muslim state as a hostage to powerful armed neighbours, deprived of the ability to protect its people, with its economy choked and its institutions threadbare.

The lawyers advised the government not to sign the agreement as drafted. In a phrase echoing with unpleasant historical resonance, they described it as 'a mere scrap of paper'.

Ceasefire fails, page 15