DESPITE persistent rumors of imminent collapse, the peace talks on Bosnia-Herzegovina recessed over the weekend amid hopes that some movement will occur later this week.
The talks closed Saturday evening so leaders of the three Bosnian factions could return home to review proposals with their supporters. Discussions would pick up again this week.
If Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic decides to approve - or request only minor adjustments to - the map put forth by mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, Bosnia's Serbs would be the lone holdout on the peace plan and would face increasing world pressure to sign on.
Some of that pressure is expected to come from the Russians, who have close ethnic and religious ties to the Serbs and whose leaders have encouraged Bosnian Serbs to support the Vance-Owen plan. Vitaly Churkin, Russian envoy to the peace talks, is expected to visit Belgrade this week. The Clinton administration is exploring ways to tighten sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro.
The Vance-Owen map, which divides Bosnia into 10 multi-ethnic and semiautonomous provinces, is the remaining area of dispute in the three-part plan.
All parties have signed on to both the basic principles of a new constitution for Bosnia and a military agreement that provides for a cease-fire and monitoring of borders and heavy weapons.
"All heavy weapons must be under UN control if any effective cease-fire is to be achieved," says Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, who has just stepped down as commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia. So far only the Bosnian Croats have approved the entire plan, but their leader, Mate Boban, says he is confident that Mr. Izetbegovic will endorse the entire Vance-Owen plan.
Until last week, Izetbegovic was firmly opposed to both the military plan and the map. UN assurances that Serb heavy weapons could be controlled, and not just monitored, persuaded him to accept the military agreement. Reassurances from Mr. Vance and Lord Owen and from Mr. Boban apparently assuaged Izetbegovic's other concerns about the map's fairness.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, visibly irritated that the nominally allied Croats and Muslims met together with the mediators on more than one occasion last week, says the Serbs have made more compromises than others. The Serbs, who now control 70 percent of Bosnia's territory, would be held to 43 percent of the territory. One-third of the Serbs would live in provinces controlled by Muslims or Croats. US officials have said the plan rewards Serb aggression.
Vance and Owen concede that their plan is not perfect but say it is preferable to continued fighting and a wider war. "The first priority is to stop the war," Vance says. The mediators say the map is as fair as can be achieved since the Serbs have not been defeated militarily.
Charles William Maynes, editor of the journal Foreign Policy, says the map is "a terrible idea" but a better solution than anyone else has yet devised. "The world has never had a very good answer for dealing with ethnic conflict," he says. The Vance-Owen plan "embraces reality," in his view, by its call for power sharing. "You cannot have a `winner take all' political system," Mr. Maynes says. "It will not be accepted - it's a recipe for civil war."
The discernible bend in the Muslim position over the last week indicates that Izetbegovic realizes he is running out of options and that world opinion, while sympathetic, is increasingly sophisticated, says Steven Majstorovic, a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "There are no good guys and bad guys," he says. "There are a lot of areas of gray."
Mr. Majstorovic says his own family members, who are Serbs, were driven out months ago from a Muslim area in northwest Bosnia. Some members were killed and a couple of young cousins were raped. "But I'm not rabidly anti-Muslim. I also realize what Serbian gangs have done.... There are a lot of loose cannons and wild cowboys running around."
EVEN if all three parties endorse the full Vance-Owen proposal, some analysts say they doubt that the leaders can deliver all or even most of their followers.
"I think it would be helpful if they all sign, but I'm not at all persuaded that the leaders can go home and exert the necessary kind of influence ... to bring about a cease-fire," says Igor Lukes, a specialist on Eastern Europe at Boston University. Dr. Lukes says he also doubts that the map can work because Bosnia's ethnic groups are so intertwined. No matter how cautiously boundaries are drawn, he says, they create enclaves of minorities who will be reluctant to lay down arms out of a "justifiable" fe ar of reprisal.
The Vance-Owen plan can be only a temporary solution because it treats Serb aggression as a fait accompli, says Daniel Nelson, head of graduate programs in international studies at Old Dominion University in Virginia.
"There are only two ways this [conflict] is ultimately going to end and negotiations isn't one of them," Dr. Nelson says. "Either there's going to be a total military victory by the Serbs and the Croats, or the West ... will have to intervene significantly to deny them that victory." Unfortunately, he says, the former option is the more likely.