WITH two peace plans rejected by the warring factions, the international mediators trying to broker an end to the 19-month conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina have no new viable proposals.
Lord David Owen of the European Community and United Nations special envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg are pursuing fresh consultations with Western governments and rival Yugoslav leaders in a bid to keep the peace process alive.
But there is little prospect in the short term for a resumption of the Geneva-based conference on former Yugoslavia, the mediators' spokesman, John Mills, told the Monitor. ``Some kind of conference might be held, but there are no plans at all in the short term,'' Mr. Mills says.
The new diplomatic vacuum, differences between the Western allies, and the diversion of international attention to Haiti and Somalia are contributing to fears that violence and chaos could soon escalate anew. The prospects of such developments will grow if extensive human suffering this winter hardens convictions among the factions that force is the most expedient way of ending the crisis, analysts warn.
Although fighting in Bosnia has eased, there are still areas of serious conflict, new ``ethnic cleansing'' in Serb-held territories, and a potential humanitarian catastrophe. The three sides all confront internal problems, including inter-Muslim fighting and economic grievances that sparked a mutiny last month by part of the Bosnian Serb army.
``It's a dangerous stalemate,'' says a Western diplomat.
Low-level strife flares daily in Croatia in the wake of two truce-shattering offensives this year by the Croatian Army against Belgrade-backed minority Serb rebels who seized some 22 percent of the country in the 1991 war. Talks and hard-liners
Negotiations are stalled by intransigence on both sides and a power struggle between Serb leaders in which hard-liners opposed to abandoning the goal of merging their so-called ``Republic of Serbian Krajina'' with Serbia appear to have the upper hand.
``We have a desperate situation,'' says a UN Protection Force official. ``Tensions are increasing by the day and both sides are preparing for war.''
The United Nations this month renewed for six months the mandate of some 15,000 peacekeepers in Croatia. But Croatian President Franjo Tudjman says he will demand their withdrawal if progress is not made by Nov. 30 in compelling the Serbs to disarm and accept Croatian sovereignty.
Croatia's economy is now verging on hyper-inflation.
Meanwhile, political infighting and repression of minorities are rising in the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro amid rampant economic chaos. There is little prospect for an early lifting of the UN sanctions first imposed on them in May 1992.
The winter promises to deepen hardships everywhere, particularly for the poor and the millions of refugees and displaced persons. ``The winter will really bring tensions to a level where everything is possible. Anything can happen,'' warns Milos Vasic, the deputy editor of Belgrade's liberal magazine Vreme.
Not all analysts share such alarming prognoses. Some say the main protagonists, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Mr. Tudjman, can avert massive new fighting while continuing to resist the compromises needed for a settlement. Boosted by conflict
Low-intensity strife broken by periodic flare-ups would help sustain both leaders indefinitely by perpetuating the ethnic hatreds on which their power mainly rests, these analysts say.
That and their near-total control over mass media and the security services in their republics would be used to defuse any internal discontent over plunging living standards and war weariness.
``They are both in control of the political and ideological apparatus of the state,'' says Zarko Puhowski, a professor of political philosophy at Zagreb University.
Stjepan Mesic, the last president of former Yugoslavia and now chairman of Croatia's lower house of parliament, agrees: ``This situation of neither peace nor war can last a long time.''
But that seems to be the minority view. Most analysts in Serbia and Croatia say that absent a comprehensive settlement guaranteed by the Western powers, new conflict is inevitable. Mutual compromise
``There has to be a set of give and take,'' says Predrag Simic, director of Belgrade's Institute of International Politics. ``Everyone must lose something. Everybody should live with the idea that they haven't got more than the other.''
This idea is what Owen and Stoltenberg are now reportedly exploring in a so-called ``global solution'' linking all of the major Yugoslav issues in a single settlement. They are not believed to have made much progress.
In their previous approach, the pair sought to end the conflict in Bosnia before addressing Croatia and the other most-contentious issue: Serbia's repression of secessionist ethnic Albanians in its southern province of Kosovo.
Under a global approach, Croatia might grant autonomy to its rebel Serbs, while Serbia would award self-rule to Kosovo.
But just how the competing demands of Bosnia's warring factions would be met is unclear, as are resolutions of lesser issues.
Most analysts are skeptical of this approach because it would require Milosevic and Tudjman to make compromises that neither appears willing or able to undertake. Both, however, seem keenly aware of the dangers posed by the stalemate and are trying to sideline restive hard-liners to avoid an escalation in strife.