NOTWITHSTANDING new diplomatic efforts to save the UN peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina, hopes remain dim that it will be implemented in the wake of its defeat in last weekend's Bosnian Serb referendum.
Lord David Owen, one of the plan's two authors, expressed optimism yesterday that his peace plan for Bosnia was on track after Croats and Muslims agreed to separate their forces and set up coordination committees in three provinces where their troops have been fighting.
The plan's ultimate prospects, however, rest with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs' estranged patron and the man held most responsible for the 13-month-old war that has claimed about 130,000 lives.
Motivated by United Nations sanctions that have destroyed Serbia's economy, and apparently concerned that Serbia would be targeted if the international community were to intervene militarily, Mr. Milosevic has recently swung his weight behind the plan.
But questions remain as to whether he can or means to implement the plan, which would divide Bosnia into 10 ethnic-based provinces and deny him his dream of merging the Bosnian Serbs' self-declared state with Serbia. He faces growing domestic political opposition to his new policy, observers here note.
"Milosevic ... cannot do too much, too quickly," one Western diplomat says.
Few doubt Milosevic wants to end the fighting to encourage the UN to lift the sanctions on the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro. Little proof, however, exists that he has increased pressure on the Bosnian Serbs. Despite the announcement earlier this month that Yugoslavia has cut all but humanitarian supplies to the Bosnian Serbs, traffic over the border shows no change.
Gasoline and diesel fuel remain available in massive quantities and at moderate prices at new, privately owned filling stations in Bosnian Serb-held areas. Convoys of trucks haul trees logged in Bosnian Serb-controlled regions to lumber mills in Serbia.
Bosnian Serb authorities say they are still free to do business in rump Yugoslavia, a main source of financing for their war efforts. "Our goods are not stopped from entering Serbia," says Dragan Spasovic, the mayor of the Bosnian Serb-controlled border town of Zvornik, which produces textiles.
In talks with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Alexei Kozyrev Tuesday, Milosevic declined Moscow's proposal to deploy UN monitors on the border to ensure that nothing but food and medicines cross into Bosnia.
"If Serbia is forced to accept controls on the border with Bosnia, Milosevic could really be placed in a very difficult position," says Stojan Cerovic, a leading political commentator for the Belgrade's Vreme magazine, explaining Milosevic's domestic political problems.
In keeping with the ironies of the crisis, Milosevic's most outspoken critic is a politician of his own creation: Vojislav Seselj, the pistol-toting leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party.
Promoted by the Milosevic-controlled media, Mr. Seselj's party won second place in federal and republic polls in December. It has provided Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) with the support it needs to maintain minority governments at the federal level and in Serbia.
But Seselj is incensed over Milosevic's support for the peace plan and his "betrayal" of the Bosnian Serbs, observers say. Should Seselj withdraw his backing for the SPS governments, new elections probably would be needed and Milosevic would lack crucial support.
A dedicated adherent to the cause of "Greater Serbia," Seselj commands strong loyalties within the Yugoslav Army and other security services. Milosevic has to move carefully in isolating Seselj and his supporters before consolidating his power and dealing with the Bosnian Serbs, Western diplomats here say. Recent moves indicate that he and his allies in the Army high command have begun doing just that.
The Yugoslav Army general staff issued a statement Tuesday condemning recent attacks by Seselj on the military and its senior-most commander, Col. Gen. Zivota Panic, whom the radical leader accused of corruption.
The statement alleged that two senior generals forced to retire recently had acted as Seselj's moles inside the military and that he was seeking the ouster of the hierarchy for supporting Milosevic's about-face. It accused Seselj of seeking to "use" the Army for his "party and political goals," and said that his "constant and various attacks on the Yugoslav Army have for their goal the destabilization of the state and its armed force."
The Army appears to be laying a possible basis for Seselj's prosecution on sedition charges.
The Belgrade newspaper Borba, meanwhile, Tuesday reported that preparations may be under way to prosecute on charges of abuse of power one of the retired generals linked to Seselj, as well as the nationalist Yugoslav Airforce commander and a former federal vice president opposed to the peace plan.
"Milosevic has finally begun to move. He and the Army are cracking down on Seselj and sending out signals not to line up with this guy," a diplomat says.