THE BOSNIAN Muslims joined the new round of peace talks at the United Nations yesterday and presented a modified version of the 'peace map' to divide the country into semi-autonomous provinces. Western diplomats have said the new map is workable, but there were no immediate signs of any progress.
The original plan, drawn up by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, would divide the country into 10 provinces, but the Muslims' map suggested 13 separate regions with the three new ones under UN control.
Later yesterday, Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, temporarily suspended his participation in the talks, saying he could not be involved as long as Serbs continued their offensive in eastern Bosnia and Sarajevo. President Izetbegovic, who arrived in New York late on Wednesday, said his meeting with Mr Vance and Lord Owen was very short because of the 'bad news' from Bosnia. But he said 'that doesn't mean we interrupt the negotiations. We are staying in our hotel and we are waiting that Serbs stop killing the people.'
Earlier in the day, Mr Vance and Lord Owen held talks with the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, who did not bring his top military commander, General Radko Mladic, as expected and no progress was reported in those talks either. Mr Karadzic and the Bosnian Croat leader, Mate Boban, were due to meet the two peace mediators later yesterday.
Apart from the map - and only the Bosnian Croats have accepted the original version - all three parties are anxious to fix the immediate arrangements for implementing a ceasefire, should the peace plan be signed. According to the Vance-Owen plan the ceasefire would take place 72 hours after the signing and peace-keeping troops would move in the next day.
Nato has been drawing up plans to send in at least 50,000 troops as soon as the settlement is reached, but the key issue of who would command such a force is as yet unresolved. The US and Britain want a Nato commander, but France and Canada want the force to be under overall UN command.
In a separate move, the UN Security Council condemned Serbian forces for new violations of its ban on flights over Bosnia. The condemnation was strongly supported by the US administration, which favours using military force to police the air exclusion zone. So far the Western allies have not backed such a move, but as the possibility of a settlement looms with the potential introduction of Nato forces, the US has been pushing for policing the zone with close allies.
In London yesterday, the Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said British forces may not remain in Bosnia after October, when Britain's undertaking to the UN expires, and Britain will have no compunction about withdrawing troops if they cannot fulfil their mandate. He also said that the British contribution to UN Protection Force 1 in Croatia might be cut as the force was 'not stretched'.
Mr Rifkind said Britain had given the UN an undertaking to provide the battalion group centred on the Cheshire Regiment and the 9th/12th Lancers for six months, and was now preparing to replace it with another group centred on the Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire and the Light Dragoons for another six months. 'We have so far given no commitment beyond that. We have not thought beyond that,' he told journalists, adding that the winter was when humanitarian aid was most needed. A third group, to escort aid through the 1993-94 winter, might therefore be the last.
With some predictions that the United Nations could be in Bosnia and Croatia for 10 years, Mr Rifkind's caution is understandable.