Muslims muddy Bosnia peace plan

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INTERNATIONAL efforts to end the Bosnian war looked in serious trouble last night after Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, qualified his government's acceptance of a plan to divide the republic into Muslim-Croat and Serb sectors.

Mr Izetbegovic said that, since the Bosnian Serbs had refused to accept the plan, his government now wanted to add its own conditions. His remarks left Western countries puzzling over their next move, since they had counted on the Bosnian government to keep quiet about its objections so that they could concentrate on putting more pressure on the Serbs.

The Bosnian Serb answer to the peace ultimatum, revealed yesterday in Geneva, was a 'don't know', which appears to amount to rejection of the Western-Russian plan. The response was condemned by Washington, Paris and Bonn, while in Zagreb the UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, said the UN and Nato were planning 'punitive steps' in the event of a Serbian rejection.

The parliament in Pale 'was not in a position to decide' on the Geneva proposal, according to a copy of the text reported by Reuters, because 'all the elements of the peace plan were not known'. Pale was ready, however, for more talks. Russia gave a friendlier response than Western countries to the Serbian reply, suggesting the Serbs may escape further sanctions by exploiting divisions among the contact group. Their foreign ministers meet on 30 July to consider the Bosnian positions.

'I am disappointed with the Serbian response,' said William Perry, the US Defence Secretary, adding that the contact group - the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia - 'will be considering a whole series of potential actions. They will include the possibility of tightening the sanctions on Serbia. As a last resort, they will be considering the lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia.'

Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, warned the Serbs not to 'gamble away this chance for peace'. He told reporters: 'If the attitude of the Bosnian Serbs has not changed by (30 July), then their response must be regarded as a 'no', with all the consequences that could follow.' But Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, said the Bosnian Serbs had 'a rather positive attitude' and a 'legitimate wish' to know more about the plan.

The Pale statement said 'the proposal. . .can serve, in considerable measure, as a basis for further negotiations' on issues including demands for access to the sea, an end to sanctions on Serbia, queries about consitutional arrangements, and the status of Sarajevo. It added that 'further work is required on the proposed map', giving the Bosnian federation 51 per cent of territory and the Serbs 49 per cent.

The contact group has said the two sides can negotiate any issue but both must first accept the principle of the map, which maintains Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single state. 'As far as we are concerned, that's our map and we will stick to it,' the US special envoy, Charles Redman, said yesterday. But Mr Kozyrev was quoted as saying: 'Nobody can question the Bosnian Serbs' right to an independent state, the same as that given to the Bosnian Croats and Muslims.' Asked if the contact group remained united over its plan, Mr Redman replied: 'We're still doing pretty well.'

(Photograph omitted)