Bosnian president says yes to map

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BOWING to political and military reality, Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, yesterday said his government should accept the peaceful ultimatum delivered by the international community on Wednesday and resign itself to the effective partition of Bosnia.

'Despite everything, my opinion is that we should accept this plan because by refusing it we would do a favour to (the Serbian leadership),' he said in Sarajevo yesterday.

The plan means the Serbs would retain many areas 'ethnically cleansed' of Muslims, and that many refugees - perhaps a majority - would not go home. But the diplomatic pressure on Sarajevo, and the apparent failure of a recent Bosnian offensive in the Serb-held Ozren region may have left Mr Izetbegovic with no choice.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, described the proposed redistribution of land as an 'American dictat' but promised to consider the plan. He may face pressure from Belgrade to sign up, although few observers expect deeds to follow. The map, drawn up by the contact group of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, assigns 51 per cent of Bosnia to the Muslim- Croat federation and 49 per cent to the Bosnian Serbs, who now control more than 70 per cent of the land. It was offered to the factions on a 'take it or leave it' basis, backed by threats to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian government if the Serbs refuse to sign, or to lift sanctions on Serbia if Sarajevo rejects the proposal.

Mr Karadzic and his military counterpart, General Ratko Mladic, show few signs of being willing to cede territory to the government. They may consider the threat to lift the arms embargo toothless.

An end to the arms embargo would mean the rapid withdrawal of the UN protection force, which would leave hundreds of thousands of civilians without aid. Many Bosnians fear the Serb leadership in Pale will sign up but not withdraw its troops, playing the familiar game of talking nice and acting tough. Alternatively, Mr Karadzic may agree to the proposal only to see the self-styled Bosnian-Serb parliament reject it, conveniently tying his hands.

The impetus for peace may come from the battlefield where there seems to be a stalemate. A three-week government offensive around Mount Ozren - an attempt to seize control of an important road known in UN-speak as Route Duck - has almost certainly failed.

'Nothing that I have seen here indicates to me any prospect of a military solution,' said Colonel John McColl the British commander in Vitez. 'Everything points to an inconclusive and protracted festering conflict. That's why they should go for peace.'