Land claim upsets US peace plan

Bosnia settlement: Last-minute demand by Croats and Muslims to consolidate recent gains throws talks into confusion

The US-inspired peace plan for Bosnia suffered a setback yesterday after a senior Bosnian official demanded more territory for the Muslims and Croats at the expense of the Bosnian Serbs. Ejup Ganic, the Bosnian Vice-President, said existing proposals, which would give 51 per cent of Bosnia to the Muslims and Croats and 49 per cent to the Serbs, were "illogical and out of date".

The United States, Russia and the main European powers decided 18 months ago on the 51-49 per cent division, and since then the proposal has been a rare fixture in a shifting diplomatic landscape.

The Muslim-led government accepted the proposal last year, but the Bosnian Serbs, despite scaling down territorial demands as a result of military defeats since July, dislike it and would almost certainly resist any attempt to allocate them even less land. Until their losses in western and northern Bosnia, the Serbs held about 70 per cent of the republic, but now the balance of control broadly matches the 51-49 initiative.

Mr Ganic said it made no sense for the Bosnian Serbs to receive 49 per cent when, according to his own estimate, only 400,000 Serbs - or 11 per cent of Bosnia's pre-war population - lived in Serb-controlled areas. Before the war, Serbs made up about 32 per cent of Bosnia's 4.4 million people.

Many Serb-held regions of Bosnia are depopulated because Serb forces have expelled vast numbers of Muslims and Croats since April 1992.

Mr Ganic's comments indicate that Muslim leaders have not lost hope of putting all of Bosnia back under the control of Sarajevo. Fulfilling this would be a tall order, since it would mean not just defeating the Bosnian Serbs but taking on those Bosnian Croats whose primary allegiance is to Croatia.

Meanwhile, diplomats said the US, Britain and France had made it clear to Croatia that it should not scupper peace talks by launching an offensive to recapture Eastern Slavonia, the last Serb-held region of Croatia. But a US official said the Croats had indicated an attack was likely if no negotiated solution had been reached by 30 November, when the UN mandate expires in Croatia.

US and Russian officials held talks in Moscow yesterday on how to bring Russian soldiers into a Nato peace force in Bosnia. The US opposes a joint Nato-Russian command.

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