Serb 'Napoleon' sees plot in peace plan

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BELGRADE - If President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is now the 'good Serb' in the latest episode of the Yugoslav drama, then the new antagonist is the commander of the Bosnian Serb forces, General Ratko Mladic, writes Robert Block.

Gen Mladic is widely credited with having been instrumental in swaying last week's Bosnian Serb 'parliament' to reject the Vance- Owen peace plan. At a crucial stage he addressed the meeting with an array of maps, including one which he said was from a 23-year-old book by a Muslim historian and which was exactly the same as the Vance- Owen plan. 'I said this was proof that our neighbours, through their agents in Europe, have long been planning the carve-up of our territory,' he told the Tanjug news agency. 'The plan is a monstrosity and has as much chance of surviving as Siamese twins.'

The stocky 51-year-old general is a mass of contradictions. He had a reputation for brutality even before the war erupted in Yugoslavia, and the United States last year named him as a potential war criminal. But he also intervened to prevent the destruction of Srebrenica and on Saturday he agreed to a ceasefire and demilitarisation procedure which has the support of Lord Owen.

Before last week he was viewed as Mr Milosevic's man: he was appointed to his position by the Serbian leader after faithful service in the Serb-Croat war in 1991. Diplomats said Mr Milosevic, seeking to discredit the Bosnian Serb leaders, will have a difficult time with Gen Mladic. 'He is not a womaniser or a gambler. He is clean and will be a tough nut to crack,' a diplomat said.

Some say that Gen Mladic is determined to seize power for himself, and he is often likened to Napoloen, not least for the caps he has taken to wearing. 'He is opposed to Vance- Owen because he does not want to give back the territory he won and because he is afraid of the skeletons that may literally fall out of the cupboard if he did,' the diplomat added.

(Photograph omitted)