'Cheeky' Owen under fire for pushing peace plan

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The Independent Online
LORD OWEN came under fire again yesterday for his outspoken lobbying on behalf of his joint peace plan with Cyrus Vance for the division of Bosnia. At the same time, the Clinton administration was said to be moving toward a limited endorsement of the plan which would divide Bosnia into 10 cantons with a loose central government.

'Cheeky' and 'condescending' was how the New York Times editorial described Lord Owen's several appearances on television since he arrived in New York from Geneva at the beginning of the week. He has repeatedly called on the administration to support the peace plan as 'the only game in town' or 'scuttle chances of ending the war'.

Thus far, the administration has refused to be pushed into a decision, asking for more time and claiming that the plan is flawed mainly because it leaves intact areas that have been 'enthically cleansed' by the Serbs. Officially, State Department officials say they are still considering options and the White House says only that Mr Clinton will personally announce the administration's policy 'relatively soon'. Rumours were rife on Capitol Hill yesterday that the administration was about the accept the plan, at least in principle.

In cautioning the administration, and scolding Lord Owen for pushing too hard, the New York Times was joining the Washington Post and some vociferous congressmen who have opposed the plan. The fiercest critics say the plan would would leave old scores unsettled and is completely unrealistic. They have called Messrs Vance and Owen appeasers of Serbian aggression. Others would like to see adjustments or additions. For example, they demand a military balance be set up between the warring factions - which in essence means taking away the heavy artillery from the Serbs - before any consideration of endorsing the plan. They also want adjustments to the map creating the cantons.

Both factions fear an ignominious outcome: that the plan would be endorsed, somehow, but never implemented.

Lord Owen's response is that no one has come up with a reasonable alternative, and that he and Mr Vance are open to suggestions. He also points out that the European Community countries have already endorsed the plan, and the only hold-out among the Big Five - Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States - on the United Nations Security Council is the US. Delay, even critical delay from the administration, he says, risks the plan falling apart.

Bosnian Serbs and Croats have indicated they would accept the plan, but Bosnia's Muslims are holding out, hoping that the US will get them a better deal.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, in New York to attend the UN conference, said he accepted most of the planned division of Bosnia, but for the Serbs the key problems revolved around Sarajevo and the Drina River. 'I think the maps are 80 per cent good,' he said.

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