The vote on the territorial division of Bosnia between the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation was expected to confirm the Bosnian Serb leadership's rejection of the peace plan, deputies said.
The big powers that drafted the peace plan - the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain - have called for stiffer sanctions against Serbian-led Yugoslavia if the Serbs in neighbouring Bosnia reject the peace plan. The big powers say a referendum is a time-wasting measure and its negative outcome a foregone conclusion. Serbia concurs and has threatened to cut off links with the Bosnian Serbs if they persist in rejecting the peace plan.
In May of last year Bosnian Serbs held a referendum on an earlier UN-backed peace plan and overwhelmingly rejected it.
The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said his people must now be prepared to go it alone. Addressing the assembly, Mr Karadzic said Bosnia's Serbs would have to move to a full war-footing and prepare for closed borders with neighbouring Serbia.
'Probably we shall have to declare a (full) state of war, full mobilisation and rationed supplies,' he said. If Belgrade made good its threat to break relations, as indicated by the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, the borders would be sealed and 'not even a bird will be allowed to cross'.
'Now we understand that Yugoslavia cannot help us any longer,' he said. 'But nevertheless we have to decide on our destiny.' Mr Karadzic said the Bosnian Serb people must be prepared to go hungry, barefoot and naked if they reject the peace plan in a vote.
Increasing international pressure has been brought to bear on the Serbs to accept the plan, which would divide Bosnia roughly evenly between the Serbs and their Muslim-Croat foes.
The assembly meeting was held in a truck factory in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, a short distance from Sarajevo, where the Muslim-Croat alliance has already given a grudging 'yes' to the peace plan. On a board in the assembly hall a large map of Bosnia was displayed in front of the 55 deputies.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the pressure to accept the plan, there is still considerable resistance to it among influential Bosnian Serbs.Reuse content