EC delivers ultimatum to Bosnian Serbs

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THE European Community has delivered an ultimatum to Bosnian Serb leaders to accept the peace plan presented at Geneva, or face unspecified punitive measures. The EC said in a statement it was ready to call on the United Nations to take whatever measures were needed to end the civil war in Bosnia if the Bosnian Serb assembly voted down the plan at a special session expected in the next few days.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, in an interview published yesterday in Sarajevo, emphatically backed the Owen- Vance plan, saying it spelled the death of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb state-within-a-state. But Mr Izetbegovic warned that a just peace for his embattled Muslim community was 'still menaced by numerous Chamberlains who are haunting Europe'.

In spite of the threat of outside intervention, Bosnia's Serbs are dithering over their response. The assembly of the Bosnian Serbs has yet to decide on a venue or a date for the vote. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, assented 'in principle' to the plan in Geneva, and has threatened to resign if the assembly fails to give him backing.

The Serb-dominated Yugoslav government is putting pressure on Bosnia's Serbs to accept the accord, which has won the support of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President. It declared the Vance-Owen plan granted Bosnia's nearly 2 million Serbs 'room to realise their full equality and protect their national interests'. In a sign that grassroots Bosnian Serb leaders may swing behind Mr Karadzic, the hardline Serbian leader of Herzegovina, Bozidar Vucurevic, yesterday said that he hoped the assembly would say yes.

The Vance-Owen plan would divide Bosnia into 10 provinces enjoying wide autonomy, but it does not grant Serbs a state-within-a- state, or a corridor linking Serb- held lands with Serbia proper. Under the plan, the Serbs would return a large chunk of land they now hold to Bosnian Muslims.

While the Serbs wrangled over the Geneva accord, a UN convoy yesterday set out from Belgrade along a tortuous route to reach the most isolated and afflicted Muslim enclave in Bosnia, at Zepa, in the east of the republic.

Many people in the town are reported to have died from starvation and the effects of the cold over the last few days. Zepa's population of 8,000 has more than tripled following an influx of Muslim refugees from neighbouring villages. More than 50 children are said to be among the dead.

LONDON - Military sources are understood to be sceptical about the Vance-Owen peace plan, writes Chris Bellamy. The plan presents a complicated picture with the present frontline between the warring sides meandering between the borders of 10 areas allocated to Serbs, Croats and Bosnians. Areas 3 and 5, to be administered by Muslims and Croats respectively, lie astride the vital Serbian resupply corridor through Brcko, which has been the subject of fierce fighting. On the other hand, the Serbs are considerably stretched and there is evidence that morale is beginning to crack. Current Bosnian Serb offensives aim to recover areas lost to the Croats and Muslims in the last six to eight weeks. The latter have more manpower in Bosnia and appear to be increasingly well equipped. Some analysts believe the Serbs may welcome a respite, possibly waiting for a Croatian offensive in the UN protected areas in the spring.