Bosnians under strong pressure to accept 'reality': Sarajevo team is 'open to ideas'

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A DRAFT set of nine principles ordained by Serbia and Croatia which would split Bosnia into three republics was circulating among diplomats in Geneva yesterday while a gloomy delegation from the Bosnian presidency conceded that it was open 'to all new ideas and initiatives'.

It was clear that Lord Owen and his fellow mediator, Thorvald Stoltenberg, intended to pursue a double strategy to salvage what they could from the defunct Vance-Owen plan and to bring the Bosnian war to an early end.

Their main effort was directed at the divided remains of the Bosnian state authorities. Lord Owen wanted the majority of the Bosnian presidency to insist that President Alija Izetbegovic and his inner clique submit to military and political reality by agreeing to peace on terms set by their foes.

At the same time the two mediators were engaged yesterday in talks designed to extract concessions from the Serbs and Croats to make a bitter settlement somewhat more palatable to the government in Sarajevo.

The nine principles upon which Serbia and Croatia wish the former Bosnia to exist make clear how far the realities of which Lord Owen speaks have moved from the days when the Vance-Owen plan was, in his memorable phrase, 'the only game in town.'

The first two principles mention 'republics' representing the three constituent peoples, while the Vance-Owen plan specified 10 'provinces' of a centrally-governed state.

The draft proceeds from the notion of a confederation that would strip the central government of all but the barest functions. It also dilutes the prohibition in the earlier plan of any formal links with foreign states, thus opening the way for de facto ties between the Serbian and Croatian republics and their masters in Belgrade and Zagreb.

While promising the 'highest level of human rights' in the future Bosnia and talking of progressive demilitarisation, the draft makes no mention of protecting minorities. Nor does it speak of reversing the effects of ethnic cleansing.

It also robs the central authority of any executive power by insisting that major decisions be taken only by consensus between the three republics.

The seven members of the Bosnian presidency who are in Geneva for the talks found themselves in an unenviable position, faced with maximum demands from their enemies and the prospect of violent dissent in Muslim ranks if they give in.

The presidency includes Muslims, Serbs and Croats loyal to the idea of a single state. But President Izetbegovic, who has ruled single-handedly over Bosnian diplomacy in the past, refused to come to the talks. That left the delegation headed formally by a Croat, Franjo Boras, but dominated by its only remaining Muslim member, the controversial business wheeler-dealer Fikret Abdic, who shares Lord Owen's assessment of reality and favours a prompt settlement.

'There is no way that this is a coup d'etat of any kind,' Mr Boras insisted at a press conference. But he added: 'President Izetbegovic has no more authority or power than any other member of the presidency,' noting that, 'we have a quorum to pass any important decisions'.

He said the seven members were discussing the Serbian and Croatian proposals. 'The presidency is open to all new ideas and initiatives,' Mr Boras said.

Mr Abdic hastily intervened to state that 'we haven't accepted new ideas, just taken them for information'. There would be further consultations with Sarajevo, he said. 'There is no way that the presidency is selling out Bosnia-Herzegovina and therefore I think there is no need at this press conference to go into details.' Clearly unhappy that he has been singled out as the key figure for a Muslim compromise, Mr Abdic denied that he wished to take over as president. He said he had simply argued that in Bosnia's hour of crisis it was important that the collective state leadership embodied in the presidency should 'be engaged' more in political decisions.

This analysis is precisely that desired by Lord Owen, who sees in an assertive presidency the instrument to end the domination of Mr Izetbegovic and thus to compel the Bosnian side to come to terms. So delicate a strategy of power may seem impeccable in the corridors of Geneva, but some diplomats doubt that it will work so smoothly when confronted by the armed factions that make up Muslim political reality in Sarajevo.