Serbs reject peace plan for Bosnia Parliament decides to put issue to popular vote


PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Ignoring appeals from both friends and foes, delegates to the self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament voted overwhelmingly today to reject the plan to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and put the peace accord to the (( people in a referendum.

Voting at the end of a 17-hour session at which the presidents of Serbia and Yugoslavia and the Greek prime minister joined their own leader in pleading with them to accept the peace plan, delegates to the self-declared parliament voted 65 to 1 with 12 abstentions to call a referendum of all Bosnian Serbs May 15 and 16 to ratify their rejection of the plan. It was not clear how the parliament proposed holding a referendum of all Bosnian Serbs in the war conditions that now exist.

In a last-ditch appeal minutes before the vote was taken, Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia, who has backed the Bosnian Serbs with arms throughout the 13 months of some of the bitterest fighting in Europe since World War II, told the delegates: "You have to understand that I can't help you anymore."

The decision to put the question of the peace plan to Bosnian Serb voters left open the question of whether Western plans for possible military intervention or a lifting of the arms embargo against the Muslim-led Bosnian government will now go forward. The question of military intervention had been left pending after the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, agreed to the peace plan at a meeting near Athens, Greece, last weekend.

President Clinton conferred with advisers last night.

"He's being told now," a senior administration official said after the president returned to the White House from two receptions. "We'll have to meet in the morning and analyze what happens."

The possibility that the Bosnian Serb parliament might reject the plan began to become clear after delegates started suggesting a series of conditions that should be placed on their acceptance of it.

The delegates said the conditions could include such critical items as changes in the map attached to the peace plan, which would divide Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous provinces.

"We also want some of the economic sanctions against Serbia lifted right away, and a commitment that others will be gradually lifted," said one delegate, Dobrica Milenkovic, during the debate that preceded the vote. "We want any United Nations forces sent here to include countries we trust, like Greece and Russia, and not Arab countries. With these conditions, we will probably vote to sign."

In one indication the mood of the parliament was going against the plan, one observer who attended the session said after watching the debate: "They are asking for crazy things. There is a big fight between emotion and logic, and it seems that emotion is winning."

Any changes in the peace plan, which was drafted by Cyrus R. Vance, the U.N. mediator, and Lord Owen of the European Community, would have to be approved by the other sides. Both the Bosnian Croats and Muslims have already signed the original peace plan.

It was initially unclear whether the conditions being put forward by the Bosnian Serbs were meant as a negotiating ploy to delay carrying out the terms of the accord.

Under the terms of the plan, once it had been accepted by all parties, an international force of about 50,000 to 70,000 troops, including more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers, would be dispatched to Bosnia as a peacekeeping force.

Another possible explanation for all the conditions suggested by Bosnian Serbs was that they might be intended to be a face-saving declaration that the Bosnian Serbs knew to be unacceptable and would not insist upon, but wanted to promulgate for their own political reasons.

Prior to the vote, Dragan Kalinic, health minister of the self-proclaimed Serbian republic in Bosnia, outlined a list of conditions in a draft document to be voted on by the 82-member assembly.

Chief among them was the establishment of corridors linking Serbian-controlled areas. The issue is critical because, at present, areas in western Bosnia and Croatia with more than a half million Serbian residents are connected to Serbia proper by a corridor that is only a mile wide at one point and is regularly attacked by the Muslim-led Bosnian government forces.

"All Serb provinces should be linked by unbroken territorial corridors," Mr. Kalinic said.

pTC Mr. Vance and Lord Owen had agreed in Athens to establish a six-mile-wide corridor, patrolled by U.N. troops, through the bottleneck in northern Bosnia. But there was no guarantee of eventual Serbian political control of the province through which the corridor would pass; the area is hotly contested by all three factions.

Prominent friends of the Bosnian Serbs sat in the front row as the debate dragged on. They included the chief patron of the Bosnian Serb army, Mr. Milosevic of Serbia; the federal Yugoslav president, Dobrica Cosic; and the Greek prime minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, who was the mediator at a meeting near Athens last weekend when Mr. Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' leader, accepted the Vance-Owen plan in principle. All gave speeches urging that the peace plan be accepted.

The parliament, a self-appointed body made up mostly of local political leaders, began meeting yesterday at the Jahorina, a ski resort that is now virtually abandoned.

"People are against the plan because we don't want to give our land back to the Turks," said Ljubo Bosijcic of Sarajevo, referring to Bosnian Muslims. "That point was made over and over again."

Bosnian Serbs now control about 70 percent of the republic, but under the Vance-Owen plan the regions over which the Serbs would have control amount to only about 40 percent of the land area. The rest of the 10 autonomous regions would be divided between Bosnia's Muslims and Croats, with Sarajevo to be designated an open city under joint administration.

Less than two weeks ago, Bosnian Serb delegates voted unanimously to reject the peace plan. Since then, U.N. sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro, the two states remaining in federal Yugoslavia, have been tightened; Serbia's strongest defenders in Russia have been defeated at the polls by President Boris N. Yeltsin; and the United States and other Western nations have proceeded with plans for military intervention here.

Several delegates to the conference said that the prospect of foreign military intervention had led them to consider supporting the peace plan.

"I have to admit, the biggest change is the threat of military action against us," said Nikola Peric, who represents the town of Banja Luka but who, like many delegates, actually lives and works in Belgrade. "Mr. Clinton refused to go to Vietnam himself, but he was ready to create a new Vietnam in the Balkans."

The tone for yesterday's session was set by the midday arrival of a 20-car caravan from Belgrade. Among the passengers were Mr. Milosevic, Mr. Cosic and Mr. Mitsotakis. Each addressed a public session of the conference. It was the first time since the Bosnian war began 13 months ago that Mr. Milosevic has entered Bosnia.

Although Serbia has supported the Bosnian Serbs in their campaign, Mr. Milosevic has sought to preserve a measure of public distance by declining invitations to visit the front or

address military commanders. His mere presence in Pale yesterday, which had not been expected, underlined the seriousness of his message.

"At the risk of simplifying things in order to make them clearer, I believe there is now no alternative to a decision for peace," Mr. Milosevic told the delegates. "We do not have to give up our remaining claims, but we must prepare to present them at the negotiating table, with peaceful means, and not with the sacrifice of lives."

Mr. Milosevic said the Vance-Owen plan "guarantees us freedom and justice," and he urged the delegates to "be brave enough to make this decision."

After Mr. Milosevic finished his appeal, Mr. Mitsotakis took the floor. He expressed affection and support for the Serbs and their cause, and reminded delegates of the political and religious ties between Greece and Serbia, which he described as "brother nations."

"Today you must find the strength to make a decision for peace," Mt. Mitsotakis said. "This agreement provides 90 percent of what Serbia needs, and in such a situation no one can expect 100 percent. We must not give an excuse to those military forces anxious to intervene, to come here and fight. A refusal today cannot be reconsidered later. That is why I insist that you are voting on the fate of the Serbian nation and the Balkans."

The other speaker who appeared to sway delegates was Mr. Cosic, a novelist whose writings have helped define modern Serbian nationalism. He urged delegates not to repeat what he said was a long Serbian tradition of "winning in war but then losing in peace."

"The conditions of this plan are not ideal, and in fact they are painful," Mr. Cosic said. "The plan is imperfect and unjust. But it gives us a chance to achieve our goals through peace instead of war. The world is against us, and we cannot continue

this war to the point of committing suicide."

"We have no strength for this war," he concluded. "We cannot continue fighting this war."

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