Muslims and Croats to sign UN peace plan: Bosnian Serbs outmanoeuvred by breakthrough in New York

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN peace talks were hauled back from the brink of collapse yesterday when two of the factions, the Muslims and the Croats signed the full peace package as the talks were breaking up.

It was a 'major step forward in the negotiations', said Cyrus Vance, the co-mediator of the talks with Lord Owen. He said he hoped it would lead to action by the international community and, in particular, the UN Security Council, to pressure the Serbs to sign and to ensure the peace plan was implemented.

Bosnia's Serbs, led by Radovan Karadzic, still refused to sign, and his delegation returned to Belgrade for consultations.

The Vance-Owen plan will be submitted to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and then taken up by the Security Council. Lord Owen called on the Council to 'back its words with actions', by which he meant increased sanctions on Belgrade, and urged the world community, by which he meant primarily the United States, to put 'maximum diplomatic pressure' on the Serbs to sign the peace accord.

There seemed little prospect of the Serbs accepting the accord. If sanctions were tightened on Belgrade, Mr Karadzic vowed 'to leave all negotiations and declare an independent Serbian state' on Bosnian territory won by Serbs during the war.

President Alija Izetbegovic, representing the Bosnian Muslims, was persuaded to sign up after adjustments had been made to the Vance-Owen map that would divide the former Yugoslav republic into 10 semi-autonomous provinces. The Croats had long been expected to sign the new map.

Mr Izetbegovic, who was also given assurances by the US that it would help lift the arms embargo against the Muslims if the Serbs continued their attacks against Muslim enclaves, warned that his signature would be 'null and void' unless the Serbs signed within a 'reasonable time frame'. He did not specify the length of time.

The new map gives the Muslims greater control of the province surrounding the capital, Sarajevo, and is unacceptable to Bosnia's Serbs, according to Mr Karadzic. The Serbs are now isolated in the diplomatic process - in the manner Mr Vance and Lord Owen had planned when they realised they could not get all three sides to agree.

Mr Boutros-Ghali had talks yesterday with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to consider new moves in the Security Council and the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia that is directly aimed at stopping Serbian military planes from bombing Muslim enclaves. The Council is expected to meet at the beginning of next week.

In Washington, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday called enforcement of a no-fly zone in Bosnia justified but not essential. After talks with Senator George Mitchell, leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, Mr Hurd said Britain had long been ready to enforce the no-fly zone but the Russians were reluctant 'until very recently'.

Despite hints to the contrary from President Clinton, Mr Hurd made clear his continued opposition to a partial lifting of the arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia to help the Bosnian Muslims, saying that this would be impossible to operate in practice.

Earlier in the week, in a television interview, the US President spoke of the need for actions 'to give the Bosnians at least a means to defend themselves' if they endorsed the Vance-Owen peace plan and the Serbs refused to do so.