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Bosnia presses U.S. for military aid Settlement in doubt as peace talks near end


DAYTON, Ohio -- The Muslim-led Bosnian government has formally asked the United States to provide "significant materiel, training and logistic support" to ensure a balance of forces with the Serbs as part of any peace agreement, a demand that American officials say is unacceptable.

The request, made in a draft memorandum given to U.S. officials, calls on the Clinton administration to "move at once" to obtain a lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia-Herzegovina and then "take immediate steps" to aid the delivery of weapons.

It is one of several issues, including the division of territory, that remain unresolved as an 18-day-old peace conference here moves toward a conclusion expected today or tomorrow, whether a settlement is reached or not.

"There are significant gaps among the parties, significant disagreements, and a substantial amount of work to do," said Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman, after a meeting between Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's president.

But a senior European diplomat said the talks were moving forward and there was still hope of an agreement by tonight and the initialing of it by the parties tomorrow.

As the hour of decisions approaches, the Bosnian government, which has known nothing but war, appears particularly torn over what course to take.

The tension building at the conference was evident early yesterday in the abrupt resignation of Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's foreign minister. He announced his departure over a beer in the discotheque at a Holiday Inn near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where the talks are being held. It is not clear when the resignation will take effect.

Mr. Sacirbey said his decision stemmed from the need to install a Croat in a top government position in order to bolster the Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia.

"The country has to have a Croatian in one of its top three posts," he said. "The president isn't going, and the prime minister doesn't want to go, so I decided I would go."

Bosnian officials said the issue of U.S. military support for the Bosnian army after any peace deal had become critical. It was raised Friday with Defense Secretary William J. Perry, and the day before with Anthony Lake, the national security adviser.

The Clinton administration at first said it was ready to provide military support for the Muslim-Croat federation after a peace deal. But several factors have since led it to an apparent modification of its position.

Among these factors are strenuous objections from Western European allies and the difficulty of combining participation in a neutral NATO force to enforce a peace with active military support for one side in the conflict.

Mr. Burns, the State Department spokesman, said the administration's preference was now to "build down" toward a rough military balance -- that is, presumably, to relieve the Bosnian Serbs of some of their considerable superiority in tanks and artillery.

Unless a lasting military balance is contrived, it would be very difficult for the NATO forces, and U.S. troops, that would go in to police a peace to leave after one year, as they now hope to do.

Disputes continued over territorial issues, the constitution and what degree of obligation should be placed on the parties to hand over indicted war criminals.

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