A STABLE cease-fire in Bosnia, based on the phased demilitarization of Sarajevo, is attainable, according to Lord Owen, co-chairman with Cyrus Vance of peace talks in Geneva sponsored by the United Nations and the European Community.
The rapid approach of winter, exposing hundreds of thousands of people to starvation, is adding a new sense of urgency to the latest peace push.
"The Bosnian Serbs have been examining a detailed plan developed by UN military experts that would progressively produce a cease-fire in the Bosnian capital and other population centers," Mr. Owen said. "I think that is a sign they are ready to agree to this."
The British envoy spoke with the Monitor Tuesday after talks with Radovan Karadzic, leader of Bosnia's Serbs, on the eve of a hectic round of diplomacy centered in Geneva. Earlier in the day Owen also saw Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian president, who later told a news conference that he favored demilitarization of Sarajevo and was prepared to offer the Bosnian Serbs a "winter cease-fire."
Owen said authorities in Belgrade had helped Mr. Vance and himself to convince both sides that a stable cease-fire was urgently needed. Nicola Koljevic, Mr. Karadzic's deputy, said Tuesday that the Serbs were prepared to "take seriously" President Izetbegovic's cease-fire proposals.
"I think this is a very hopeful sign," Owen responded. "We may not in the next few months get a complete end to all shots being fired, but I do think we are now in the process of seeing this appalling war start to wind down."
UN sources said the plan for phased demilitarization of Sarajevo involved step-by-step withdrawals by Serbs and Muslims, and the placing of blue beret observers in key areas.
Both sides would have to guarantee freedom of movement to members of the opposing communities, and UN-protected vehicles would need to be permitted to move freely in and out of Sarajevo with food and other supplies.
Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary, held talks with Vance and Owen in Geneva yesterday. British sources said the talks centered on Britain's contribution to the peace plan. They also were to examine proposals for the creation of a no-fly zone in Bosnia to prevent Serbian air attacks on Muslim population centers and humanitarian-supply convoys.
A spokesman for Vance and Owen said there was an escalation of high-level diplomatic activity and signs of "a growing momentum in the search for a settlement."
Yesterday's flurry of diplomacy included a series of interlocking meetings between Karadzic, Izetbegovic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, and Dobrija Cosic, the Yugoslav federal president. Vance, Owen, and Mr. Hurd were heavily involved in these exchanges, UN sources in Geneva said.
The talks were given added urgency by a UN report Tuesday that up to 400,000 people in Bosnia-Herzogovina could die of starvation and exposure this winter. Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, issued an urgent call for 6,000 extra UN troops to be sent to Bosnia to protect food-supply routes.
Owen said he based his own "rising hopes" on the perception that many Serbs had been horrified by what had been done in their name in recent weeks and months.
"There is a much greater acceptance by many Serbs that ethnic cleansing has been doing them tremendous harm and that it must be stamped out," Owen said.
He and Vance are working toward a long-range cease-fire.
"We are not prepared to accept a time-limited cease-fire," Owen said. "And I don't think President Izetbegovic is either. It would make no sense to agree to halt the fighting because winter had arrived, then resume it again in the spring."