Powers run out of steam over Bosnia plan

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The five powers brokering peace efforts in the former Yugoslavia have little faith their latest plan to stem the bloodshed in the Balkans will fare better than earlier initiatives. But France, Germany, Britain, Russia and the United States are resigned to the idea that any peace plan is better than no plan.

The latest proposal, whose outline was agreed to by the five countries on Tuesday, would offer Serbia the possibility of a suspension of economic sanctions in exchange for Belgrade recognising Bosnia and Croatia in their pre-war borders.

It is far from clear whether President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the champion of the Greater Serbian cause, will accept the offer, or, if he did, what difference it would make to the war in Bosnia.

"No one believes we are going to see any dramatic changes to the Bosnian landscape as a result of this plan but there is the chance that it could lead to the recognition of Bosnia and Croatia, which would be positive steps in the right direction,'' said a diplomatic source close to the five-nation "Contact Group".

"Besides, while there is a peace process going, it keeps the more drastic measures, such as lifting the arms embargo, at bay,'' he added. "It may not be a great plan, but it is the best way forward because it is the only way forward.''

One American official said that while Washington had doubts about the plan, the US felt it had to try to prevent war from spreading in the Balkans.

One problem is that the Contact Group is hampered by the competing national interests of its members who differ on the ways to resolve the conflict

When the diplomats of the five nations sat down at recent sessions to examine ways to end the war, they discovered that they had run out of fresh options. "There was the feeling that we had reached the bottom of the deck,'' one Contact Group diplomat said in Belgrade.

Attempts to isolate the Bosnian Serbs in the hopes of securing their agreement to the last peace plan had failed. Attempts to bring them back into the peace game, la Jimmy Carter, failed spectacularly. Threats of Nato military action have been a non-starter for months.

With little else to try, the French and the British in particular felt that the best bet was to turn to President Milosevic once again.

According to one diplomat, the idea to "overhaul the carrot approach'' for Serbia has been on the table since the beginning of the year. Attempts to woo Mr Milosevic have been going on since 1993.

The hope now is that by offering more blandishments, Mr Milosevic could be lured to a summit meeting in Paris in the spring with Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian President, and that mutual recognition would follow. This would then pave the way towards a set of internal deals between the warring parties, including, eventually, the intractable Bosnian and Croatian Serbs.