Bosnian factions have 10 days to weigh peace plan


GENEVA, Switzerland -- Striving to negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina before winter sets in, international mediators presented a draft peace accord to Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat leaders yesterday and gave them 10 days in which to accept or reject it.

Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's president, and Franjo Tudjman, Croatia's president, who joined the peace talks Thursday, immediately backed the plan. Leaders of Bosnian Serbs and Croats said they had reservations, although they indicated that they were willing to accept it.

The Bosnian Muslim delegation, headed by President Alija Izetbegovic, said last night that they were "not satisfied with what we have been offered" and complained that under the draft agreement "the Serbs will not give up ethnically cleansed territories which were taken by force."

But the Muslim statement was not interpreted by United Nations officials in Geneva as outright rejection of the plan. Mr. Izetbegovic said he would now return to the besieged Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and present the proposal to the Bosnian Parliament.

The new peace plan, the second such blueprint this year, comes just weeks after NATO threatened air strikes to end Serbian "strangulation" of Sarajevo. But after hoping that air strikes would improve their bargaining position, the Muslims must now choose between this draft agreement and continued warfare.

If the agreement is signed when the parties meet here again on Aug. 30, the U.N. Security Council will consider the plan. If it is approved, it will go into effect seven days later. Experts estimate that a 40,000-member international peacekeeping force will be needed to enforce it.

The draft embraces topics on which agreement has already been reached, notably that the country will be partitioned into three autonomous republics and that Sarajevo will be demilitarized and governed by the United Nations for two years until a permanent solution is found.

But the new element likely to cause the most difficulties is a map defining the borders of the future ethnic republics. The map not only requires Serbs and Croats to give up conquered territories, but it also asks the Muslims to accept loss of land where they made up a majority of residents before the war began.

According to the plan, the Muslims, who now hold only about 10 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina, will be given about 30 percent, while the Serbs, who control 70 percent, will retain close to 53 percent. The Croats, who occupy 20 percent, will end up with slightly more than 17 percent for their republic.

The mediators -- the European Community's Lord Owen and the U.N. envoy, Thorvald Stoltenberg -- also proposed a solution for the central Bosnian city of Mostar, the scene of fierce fighting between Muslims and Croats. The administration would be similar to the plan for Sarajevo, although in this case, they asked the European Community to assume responsibility for running the city for two years.

Last night, Lord Owen conceded that the agreement "is not as generous [for the Muslims] as I would have liked." He said he was disappointed that they were not given more territory in their northwestern enclave of Bihac and in eastern Bosnia, where Serbs drove Muslims from many towns early in the war.

But he stressed that, as he and Mr. Stoltenberg had insisted, the Muslims had been given "at least 30 percent" of the land and will control the town and port of Brcko on the Sava River in the northeast. In eastern Bosnia, they have also gained more land around Gorazde and in the Srebrenica-Zepa enclave than the Serbs originally offered.

Under the Serbian plan, Gorazde and the Srebrenica-Zepa enclave would have been linked to the rest of the Muslim republic only through highways. But the draft agreement attaches Gorazde to the Muslim republic and gives the Muslims control over a highway running from the Srebrenica-Zepa enclave to Gorazde.

"This is not ideal," the British mediator said. "If anyone sits down and looks at it in a pure sense, there will be deficiencies. But we're dealing with the aftermath of 17 months of bloody war."

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