Owen presses for a 'viable' Bosnian state: Sea corridor urged for Muslims after Croat-Serb deal

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The Independent Online
LORD OWEN, seeking to salvage some shred of honour from the wreckage of the Yugoslav peace process, said yesterday any Muslim republic resulting from a three-way carve-up of Bosnia must be a 'viable entity', and pledged he would work for pressure to be put on Croatia to allow a Muslim state access to the sea.

'It is absolutely vital to the Muslims,' he told the Independent. He added that because it was unclear to what degree President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia would co-operate 'we must put pressure on him on all sorts of fronts'. The EC is Croatia's biggest prospective export market. But imposing on Croatia a similar sanctions regime to that against Serbia would be difficult while the bulk of UN troops and humanitarian aid use it as a throughway to Bosnia.

Earlier, in Copenhagen, the EC negotiator said the proposals put forward this week by the presidents of Serbia and Croatia - which marked the coup de grace for his own peace plan to preserve an ethnically mixed Bosnia - were 'massively better' than those discussed in Belgrade earlier this month. The size of the proposed Muslim part of Bosnia was bigger than that originally foreseen by the Serbs.

Lord Owen, clutching at any straws the Muslim leadership might be able to sell to its people, added: 'Such a republic must be a viable entity and have proper access out for its industrial goods into the market places of the world, and it must be of sufficient size to be of a viable, credible unit.' He was speaking after briefing the Danish presidency of the European Community. The Danes responded by calling an emergency meeting of EC foreign ministers tomorrow to discuss the issue ahead of the EC summit on Monday. A British diplomat said access to the sea was a 'prime requirement' of the Muslims. 'For the Muslims to be landlocked and surrounded by states they consider to be their enemies is not the way to sell them a settlement,' he added. Such access would probably require some sort of corridor through Croatia to the port of Split. But whether Zagreb would co-operate in establishing such a corridor 'remains to be seen'.

Lord Owen was speaking a day after a hands-off President Bill Clinton hinted that the US would accept the three-way carve-up after failing to win Europe's support for arming the Muslims to help them regain lost territory. 'If the parties themselves, including the Bosnian government, agree to a different solution, then the United States would have to look at it very seriously,' he said. He did add he had hoped for an outcome that would have kept Bosnia intact. To an extent, he said, 'Serbian aggression has been rewarded.'

Asked if events had shown that aggression had paid, Lord Owen said 'It's easy just to say 'yes' to that question. I don't think that any of us can escape that we will end up with a situation with more ethnic cleansing being tolerated than is good for world order, and more gains from taking up arms than is healthy or good for any future world order,' he said.

The need for lessons to be learned for the future 'world order' was a theme developed by Lord Owen in a speech last night at St Thomas' Hospital in London, where he trained as a doctor. 'In the former Yugoslavia I have found myself since September last year too engrossed in the day-to- day struggle to help keep the humanitarian effort going and in trying to broker a negotiated settlement to have time to adequately reflect on, let alone apportion blame for, what should or might have been done earlier,' he said.

'What I do want to do is to draw some lessons from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia for the management of world order. It would be a great tragedy if, whatever the eventual outcome in Yugoslavia, the world was to abandon some of the new concepts for maintaining world order that have emerged, albeit somewhat hesitantly and imperfectly, through this crisis.'

(Photograph omitted)