ZAGREB, CROATIA — THE world's leading powers presented Bosnia-Herzegovina's warring factions with a new peace plan yesterday that centers on partitioning the republic between the Serbs and the new Muslim-Croat federation.
The proposal was given in separate meetings in Geneva to Muslim-Croat and Serb delegations by the so-called contact group of mediators from the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany.
The plan was endorsed Tuesday by the five powers' foreign ministers. It is to receive the weightier backing of US, Russian, and other heads of state attending the annual Group of Seven summit in Naples, Italy, this weekend.
The plan is the third international attempt to broker a settlement of the conflict that has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives since it erupted in late March 1992.
The factions have two weeks to accept the new proposal, the centerpiece of which is a map awarding the Muslim-Croat federation 51 percent of Bosnia and the remainder to the Bosnian Serbs.
Backed by arms and troops of the Yugoslav Army, Bosnian Serb forces overran an estimated 72 percent of Bosnia in conquests launched after the Muslim- and Croat-dominated Parliament declared independence from former Yugoslavia.
The Bosnian Serbs seek to unite their territories in a ``Greater Serbia'' with the Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro and Serb-controlled areas of Croatia.
The Bosnian leaders refused to commit themselves on the plan after meeting the contact group. Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, whose delegation met the mediators first, said the plan would be debated by Bosnia's parliament before delivering a formal response.
But he criticized the apportionment of several Bosnian Serb-conquered regions whose prewar Muslim majorities have been killed or driven into exile. ``I must say - and we said this to the contact group - the solution especially in eastern Bosnia has serious deficiencies, and some genocide areas like Prijedor are going to be controlled by those who committed those crimes,'' Mr. Silajdzic told reporters.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic told the Serb news agency that ``the Serb side will use the two-week period to consider all implications of what has been offered and adopt a clear-cut stance on it.'' But he criticized the plan and added that: ``It seems as if the four other mediators have built none of their suggestions into this American-sponsored plan.''
His comments appeared to refer to US support for Sarajevo's demand that Bosnia's internationally recognized borders and territorial integrity be preserved in any peace settlement.
The contact group built into its initiative a set of incentives designed to pressure the factions into accepting it.
A Bosnian Serb rejection would make inevitable the granting of an exemption to the Bosnian government from a United Nations arms embargo imposed on all six former Yugoslav republics in 1991. While the Muslim-led Bosnian Army has managed to obtain arms supplies through the blockade, it is unable to match the Bosnian Serbs' arsenals.
Bosnian Serb acceptance, meanwhile, would bring a phasing out of UN sanctions imposed in May 1992 on rump Yugoslavia and open the door for Western reconstruction aid. For the Muslims, rejection would exclude them from reconstruction assistance and could bring stronger enforcement of the UN arms embargo.
Additionally, France and Britain have threatened to withdraw troops who make up the backbone of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia if there is no progress toward peace.
The ``stick and carrots'' are greatest for the Serbs, however, as they are the most likely to reject the plan, diplomats say.
But despite the inducement mechanisms, there remains little optimism that the latest plan will succeed.
Like its predecessors, the plan depends on compromises over territory and military aims that both the Muslims and Serbs find politically difficult to digest.
The Bosnian government and Army are intent on regaining all territories that had Muslim majorities before the conflict.
The Bosnian Serbs, meanwhile, would have to relinquish large amounts of territory for which hundreds of their troops died. But more critically, they would have to renounce the main goal of joining a ``union of all Serb lands.''
Western diplomats and UN officials have deep misgivings over the contact group's effort because just like its predecessors, it fails to consider the rivals' political and military priorities. ``You could argue that the [new] settlement in some ways demonstrates the paralysis of the international community and the lack of imaginative thinking,'' one UN official says.