Muslims cool on Bosnia map

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA'S Muslim-led government gave conflicting signals yesterday over whether it would accept an international plan to divide the republic between the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat alliance. President Alija Izetbegovic said in Geneva that his government would not completely reject the plan and wanted to reopen negotiations with the Serbs.

Speaking in Geneva to ambassadors from Islamic countries, he made clear that he disliked the Western-Russian proposal to give 49 per cent of Bosnia to the Serbs and the rest to the Muslim-Croat federation. However, one diplomat quoted him as saying: 'Our answer will not be some radical no . . . it wouldn't be wise to reject the plan fully.'

Haris Silajdzic, Bosnia's Prime Minister, took a stronger line, saying that the Muslims would never accept an initiative that awarded Bosnian towns to Serbs who had killed and expelled Muslim civilians. In an interview with La Repubblica, he said: 'If you kill a man you go to prison, kill 20 and you become a celebrity, kill 200,000 and you'll be invited to a peace conference in Geneva.'

Mr Silajdzic cited the case of Zvornik in eastern Bosnia which had a pre-war Muslim majority but which would go to the Serbs under the maps drawn up by the great powers.

Mr Silajdzic accused the outside world of being 'ready to forget all the crimes, legalise aggression and reward massacre with partition, with the idea that a Greater Serbia is a factor for stability in the Balkans'.

As foreign ministers of the United States, Russia and the European Union met in Geneva to endorse the plan, artillery and mortar clashes continued in Bosnia despite a ceasefire declared last month. Neither Western countries nor Russia have expressed optimism that the combatants will accept the plan, and they appear uncertain what to do once the initiative dies its all but inevitable death.

The United States, which is sympathetic to the Muslims, wants the blame for the plan's failure to be laid at the Serbs' door, so that Nato can apply more pressure on Serbian positions in Bosnia. In the last resort, Washington is ready to consider lifting the United Nations arms embargo on the Muslims, despite British and French reservations.

The US approach has not pleased Russia, whose government, though not particularly pro-Serbian, is determined not to allow Nato a free hand in the Balkans. Before flying to Geneva, Russia's Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, criticised 'some of Russia's partners' - a reference to the Americans - for continuing to advocate air strikes against the Serbs.

The Bosnian Serbs, who control 70 per cent of Bosnia, are intent on merging their territory and Serbian-held parts of Croatia with Serbia proper. Their leader, Radovan Karadzic, denounced the Western-Russian plan to reduce their share of Bosnia to 49 per cent as 'humiliating for the winning side'.

But in order to avoid being portrayed as the chief wrecker of the plan, the Bosnian Serb delegation to Geneva said it had an open attitude.

'We are going there without having set our minds on rejecting or accepting the maps drawn by the contact group,' said Momcilo Krajisnik, the head of the Bosnian Serb assembly.

The maps award the Serbs much of eastern Bosnia, where Muslims formed a majority in many towns before the war. But the Serbs would have to give up some land around Brcko in the north and Bihac in the north-west.

(Photograph omitted)