Milosevic calls on Serbs to accept peace plan

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AMID threats by the United States to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and a warning that Britain will not veto such a move at the United Nations, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia yesterday appealed to the Bosnian Serbs to accept the international peace plan. He said it 'cannot be qualified as anti-Serb'.

The President's unusually strongly-worded statement, published in the Belgrade daily Politika, came as Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, arrived in Serbia for talks with Mr Milosevic. It is the first time the secretive Serbian leader has openly approved the international plan, which requires Bosnian Serb forces to surrender a third of the land they hold.

Mr Milosevic's outburst came as Washington warned it may unilaterally lift the embargo on arms supplies to Bosnia. At a meeting of the so-called 'contact group' of five major powers in Geneva on Saturday, the foreign ministers promised only to tighten existing sanctions on Serbia.

But after the talks, Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, referred to 'very strong irresistible pressure' from Congress to lift the embargo against the Bosnian Muslims if new progress is not made quickly. 'We're not prepared to see this process strung out indefinitely,' he said.

The American ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, said Washington still wanted the allies to agree on ending of the embargo. But the ambassador added: 'If that doesn't work, we might have to lift it unilaterally. We do want to lift the arms embargo.' She went on: 'We cannot go on like this indefinitely.'

In Britain, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, ruled out invoking Britain's UN Security Council veto to block arming the Bosnian Muslims.

In a distinct shift of tone, Mr Rifkind repeated that lifing the arms embargo would be a mistake and incompatible with a continuing UN presence in Bosnia, but said: 'If it was the view of the overwhelming majority of the international community, then we respect the views of the majority.'

The Bosnian Serbs have described the peace plan as suicidal. But Mr Milosevic, appearing to accuse them of selfishness, said it was the Serbs' only hope. 'Commitment to peace is in the interest of the entire Serbian nation,' he said. 'This means the proposal of the international community must be accepted and the continuation of the peace process enabled.' As for the new map, which assigns 51 per cent to the Bosnian government and 49 per cent to the Serbs: 'Giving half of the territory to the Bosnian Serbs and the other to the Muslim-Croat federation cannot be qualified as anti-Serb,' the President said. 'It is not entirely just as far as the Serbian side is concerned . . . but without doubt a compromise is necessary.'

While the Bosnian Serbs show no signs of bowing to international threats, the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo was 'disappointed' at the 'indecisiveness' of the major powers' position. 'There is an obvious gap between the content of the communique and the actual situation on the ground,' President Alija Izetbegovic said. 'Economic sanctions are by their very nature uncertain and long-term. Also the deadline for Serb acceptance has been twice pushed back, indicating a dangerous indecisiveness of the international community.'

The stick wielded by the contact group was the decision to tighten the embargo on Serbia. The carrot was an offer to arrange the 'suspension of sanctions' as soon as the Bosnian Serbs say 'yes'. This prompted Mr Milosevic to say: 'The creation of conditions for the lifting of the sanctions at this moment is the least that the citizens of . . . Yugoslavia have the right to expect.'

Mr Milosevic may fear a confrontation with the Bosnian Serb leaders in Pale, the Bosnian Serb headquarters near Sarajevo, and with the extreme right in Serbia. There is no sign that Belgrade will force a 'yes' from Pale. It could cut off the supply of fuel and arms. But this might inflame extreme nationalists at home and endanger Mr Milosevic's absolute control over Serbia.

International pressure has had little effect on Pale; Serbian violations of the ceasefire and of heavy- weapons exclusion zones have increased in the past few days.

Three women and a five-year-old girl were wounded yesterday when a rifle-launched grenade hit a government-held street in Dobrinja, a suburb of Sarajevo.

Two civilians and a policeman were wounded by Serbian snipers, while a woman in the Serb-held part of Dobrinja was shot dead. The UN reported 597 ceasefire violations in the city last Saturday, one of the highest totals for weeks. In Gorazde, eastern Bosnia, the other town protected by a heavy- weapons exclusion zone, Bosnian Serbs fired a 40mm cannon and shot at peace-keepers. And 61 Muslims forced out of Serb-held Sanski Most crossed the front line into government-held Travnik, in central Bosnia, at the weekend. But the Serbs agreed to hold talks today with the Bosnian government over the closure of the main trade route into Sarajevo.

Leading article, page 11

Cosmopolitan Bosnia, page 13

(Photograph omitted)