Mediators struggle to save peace pact for Bosnia amid partitioning dispute


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- While the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina pondered an unwanted partitioning of his country as the price for peace, international mediators scrambled yesterday to salvage a pact they hoped would bring an end to the deadly conflict.

A cease-fire that was widely ignored across Bosnia when it went into effect Saturday appeared to take hold, suggesting some commitment on the part of both government and rebel forces to give the latest armistice drive a chance.

United Nations mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg and Lord Owen of the European Community have summoned Bosnia's warring factional leaders to meet at Sarajevo's airport tomorrow in hopes of compelling them to sign a treaty brokered in Geneva but rejected three weeks ago by the Muslim-led government.

A spokesman for Lord Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg, John Mills, said the mediators are working to "bridge the gap" between the government and its Serbian and Croatian adversaries before tomorrow's meeting.

The mediators announced Thursday that the leaders of all three factions -- Serbs, Croats and the government -- had indicated their readiness to sign the proposed pact despite unresolved disputes over several details of the ethnic partition.

But Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic has since said through Bosnian Radio that he has no intention of signing unless secessionist Serbs and Croats agree to give what will be left of Bosnia more territory and access to the Adriatic Sea.

Under the plan drafted by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Croat chieftain Mate Boban at a secret June meeting that excluded the government, Bosnia would be divided into three ethnic ministates. Serbs who sparked the vicious war with their rebellion against independence in April 1992 would be given 52 percent of the republic, Croats would get 17 percent and a landlocked rump of 31 percent would be left for Bosnia's Muslims and others supportive of integration.

In response to Mr. Izetbegovic's demand for access to the sea, Mr. Boban told journalists in the Adriatic port of Split: "We will never concede any Croatian territory."

Mr. Karadzic has been equally adamant in refusing to relinquish the northwestern area around the city of Prijedor that Mr. Izetbegovic seeks. Prijedor was among the numerous regions that were predominantly Muslim until Serbian nationalists loyal to Mr. Karadzic expelled or killed non-Serbs to ensure unchallenged control of the territory.

Although the standoff over land issues showed no sign of being resolved by tomorrow, the U.N. Protection Force spokesman for Bosnia said that most of the fighting has stopped. "Military action in Bosnia has declined dramatically and it appears the cease-fire agreement is taking hold," Lt. Col. Bill Aikman told reporters in Sarajevo.

But the Croatian news agency HINA reported continuing fighting around the central city of Vitez, where Croats and Muslims have battled fiercely for months.

Overall, the conflict has left 200,000 Bosnians dead or missing and driven 2 million from their homes.

Lord Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg have warned of massive casualties this winter if the fighting continues, as food and medicine are routinely blocked from reaching civilians by rebel barricades on major roadways.

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