Gloom over Bosnian peace plan

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The Independent Online
FOREIGN ministers of the United States, Russia and the European Union meet in Geneva today to unveil a Bosnian peace plan for which neither the Bosnian Serbs nor the Muslims and Croats have shown enthusiasm. The plan, expected to offer the Muslims and Croats 51 per cent of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serbs 49 per cent, is the latest attempt to end the 27-month-old war, but even the governments sponsoring it seem to have discounted its chances of success in advance.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, was quoted by Le Monde as saying: 'We will communicate to the parties a list of deterrent and incitement measures, using the carrot and stick, to bring them to agree. But I am not very optimistic about that. Hence my concern.'

International frustration with the Bosnian war has grown because fighting between Muslim- led forces and the Serbs has continued despite a ceasefire declared last month. The two sides exchanged artillery fire yesterday on several fronts, including central Bosnia and a Serbian-held corridor in northern Bosnia near Croatia's border.

Muslim, Croatian and Serbian forces are stockpiling weapons and arms pour into former Yugoslavia in defiance of a UN embargo. The UN reports steady fighting in the Bihac region of north-western Bosnia between the Bosnian army and Muslim units loyal to Fikret Abdic, a Bihac politician and business tycoon.

Against this background, the main crumb of comfort for the outside world is that the new peace plan has narrowed differences over Bosnia both within the Western alliance and between the Western powers and Russia. But even if the West and Russia speak now with one voice, it is doubtful that either side can persuade the combatants to accept the proposed 51:49 per cent division.

The Serbs hold 70 per cent of Bosnia and have little time for a plan that will prevent them from controlling a continuous stretch of territory from Serbia through Bosnia to the Serbian-held region of Krajina in Croatia. If the Serbs reject the plan, they are likely to face increased Nato pressure in Bosnia, including stricter enforcement of a no-fly zone against Serbian aircraft.

The Muslims and Croats have demanded 58 per cent rather than 51 per cent of Bosnia's territory for their new federation. But the most important point for the Muslims is that no settlement should countenance Bosnia's permanent partition and reward Serbian forced expulsions of Muslims.

Having ended a year-long war between themselves, the Muslims and Croats believe they can reverse Serbian gains and so it would be premature to accept a compromise peace. A Muslim-Croat rejection of the plan could mean an end to UN trade sanctions against Serbia, but it seems likely that the West, especially the US, will try to blame failure on the Serbs.

(Photograph and map omitted)