Warring Factions Resume Talks On Bosnian War

Muslim frustration over Sarajevo leads to preparation for offensive

THE rival leaders of war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina meet Saturday for a new round of the Geneva international peace conference amid serious frustration within the Muslim Slav-led Bosnian government and in Western capitals with the dismal lack of progress.

Should the five-month-old talks remain deadlocked, it is likely the Western allies will move ahead with measures to halt the war ignited by the Serbian drive to rip an "ethnically pure" state out of Bosnia.

The new steps could include foreign intervention to enforce a UN-decreed "no fly" zone, which has been violated mostly by Serbian aircraft, and further economic sanctions on communist-ruled Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs' military and political patron.

"If the conference comes up empty, clearly the pressure is on to do something," says a Western diplomat. "There is no quick fix. Everybody understands that. But the facade of the negotiating process will be very thin."

Though many Western leaders oppose intervention, "The Serbs ... have brought even those of us who hold that view to the point where we can imagine armed action against them," British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd wrote in the Daily Telegraph of London.

The Bosnian government of President Alija Izetbegovic is also putting pressure for concrete progress on the peace conference co-chairmen, UN special envoy Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen of the European Community.

Bosnian leaders are enraged by the failure of Mr. Vance, Lord Owen, and Western powers to force Serbian compliance with UN directives.

"This is a chess game played by the international community for nine months," Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic said in a British Broadcasting Corporation interview. "You want to save us once we are all dead."

The Bosnian capital, now in the full grip of the fierce Balkan winter, has been without electricity and running water for weeks. A dire fuel shortage threatens the distribution of the UN humanitarian aid on which the city lives.

The Bosnian government is adding to the pressure on Vance and Owen by threatening to unleash a new round of bloodletting. UN officials and Western diplomats say that an estimated 10,000 Muslim Slav-led Bosnian troops are massed on Mount Igman, south of Sarajevo, in preparation for an offensive to break the siege of the city.

Such an offensive would ignite a massive increase in fighting across Bosnia-Herzegovina, further undermining whatever hopes remain for a negotiated political resolution to the war.

THE one bright spot is the success of Vance and Owen in persuading Mr. Izetbegovic to meet face-to-face in the new round of talks with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

But political analysts said there were no signs that Mr. Karadzic or his military and political overlord, communist President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, are ready to give up the demand to carve up Bosnia-Herzegovina between its Muslim Slav, Christian Orthodox Serbian, and Roman Catholic Croatian communities.

The demand has been firmly rejected by Vance, Owen, the Bosnian Muslims and the international community, and is the crux of the negotiations' deadlock.

Vance and Owen have proposed a federal-style state of up to 10 administrative districts having considerable autonomy. A central government would oversee foreign affairs, security, and finances. Izetbegovic has endorsed the plan, which Karadzic refused even to entertain.

Complicating the situation are the Croats' efforts to play both sides. Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban and his chief sponsor, right-wing President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, would eagerly accept Karadzic's idea because that would allow Croatia to grab the Croat-dominated Western Herzegovina region.

But Mr. Tudjman and Mr. Boban are also anxious to avoid the condemnation and isolation imposed by the international community on Serbia. Therefore, they have indicated their acceptance of the Vance-Owen plan as a basis for further negotiations.

Western diplomats said the most Vance and Owen might win is yet another in the long series of stillborn cease-fire accords.

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