Bosnians Stand Firm As Serbs Make Threats

Muslim-led government, reluctant to sign a plan that would mark the end of a single state, may seek new concessions

PEACE in Bosnia hangs in the balance. Leaders of the Muslim-led Sarajevo government are insisting on changes to the latest peace plan. The Bosnian Serbs say the plan is their last offer.

International relief officials warn that time is running out. They say the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina face disaster if they go into another harsh winter without a peace accord.

The Bosnian parliament is to hold an expanded session in Sarajevo at the end of the week to give its verdict on the plan. The Bosnian Serb assembly will be holding a similar meeting just 10 miles away at Pale, "capital" of the breakaway "Serb Republic."

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic says he expects the Bosnian Serb assembly to vote in favor of the plan. The price for the Serbs is to give up some 28 percent of the land they have conquered.

But President Alija Izetbegovic believes the Bosnian parliament will not approve the proposals.

Mr. Izetbegovic insists that the map attached to the Geneva plan, detailing the division, is unfair.

"I don't see the part of the map relating to eastern Bosnia and Krajina [in the north] as acceptable," he says.

"I will not propose that they vote for such a proposal, and I do not believe it would be accepted even if I did," he adds. "But I will do my best to keep negotiations going, to seek what amendments are possible to these maps."

But Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic says the time for talking is over.

"No more negotiations: The plan is on the table," he told a news conference at Pale. "We have made many concessions on condition that this is a solution. If they don't accept, our concessions will be withdrawn, and events will decide the future, not delegations."

Under the latest Geneva proposals, the Bosnian Serbs are allocated some 52 percent of the country, though they make up only 31 percent of the population. As a result of the war, which broke out last year, they currently control more than 70 percent of Bosnia.

The Muslim-led government forces now control only around one-tenth of the country, but is given 30 percent under the Geneva proposals. Muslims made up around 44 percent of the population in 1991.

The Geneva plan foresees the Bosnian Croats having their mini-republic on 18 percent of the country's territory, almost exactly in proportion with the size of the Croat community.

Izetbegovic concedes that the territory allocated to the Muslims by the Geneva map contains some of the country's most developed areas.

But he and his aides insist that the Serbs must give up more "ethnically-cleansed" land in the east and north where Muslims were in a majority until they fled or were driven out.

"The Geneva proposal needs considerable adjustments to be accepted," says the Bosnian foreign minister, Haris Silajdzic. "A mere glance at the map shows that the future Bosnian republic is not viable economically or politically."

Apart from viability, other principles are at stake for the Muslims and others who believe in a multiethnic Bosnia.

"Aggression and genocide are rewarded by the plan, and the victims are punished," Mr. Silajdzic says.

Silajdzic made it clear that if the territorial adjustments Sarajevo is seeking are adopted, the Bosnian government would accept the rest of the peace plan as it stood, despite long-standing opposition to the concept of an ethnic carve-up.

Under the peace plan, Sarajevo would be granted special status as a United Nations-administered city for an estimated period of two years. Mostar would have a similar status, but would be governed by the European Community.

Izetbegovic adds that the Geneva negotiations have also led to a general reduction in hostilities and casualties throughout the country.

Most of the Serb forces who last month captured the strategic heights of Mt. Igman, overlooking the capital, have been withdrawn. Relief convoys to Sarajevo have been getting through more easily, and utility repairs have restored at least partial supplies of water and power to many parts of the city.

But the encirclement by Bosnian Serb forces is still there, and few doubt that the siege could be renewed at any moment if hostilities broke out again in earnest.

The prospect of renewed war is a powerful source of pressure on the Sarajevo government. Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders have warned that the country might be split two ways, not three, if the Muslims do not accept the offer.

Another source of pressure is that many Bosnians may not survive another of the country's cruel winters if peace does not come soon.

"All the problems that we foreshadowed for last winter will be magnified this year.... We have a far greater scale of destruction, and a far greater scale of populations who have been directly displaced by this conflict," says Lyndall Sachs, spokeswoman of UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Both the government and many ordinary Bosnians who do not believe in the idea of ethnic ministates feel a bitter sense of betrayal by the international community, as well as doubts about the viability of the proposed tripartite union.

"I have given up all hope," says a Bosnian Army liaison officer. "Everything we fought for has been betrayed. Even if this plan is accepted, how can this strange creature survive?"

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