EC Dangles New-Old Plan For Peace in the Balkans

A NEW initiative to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has raised speculation that the European Community is ready to lift economic sanctions imposed on the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro.

But Western diplomats and political analysts here discount such a possibility in the near future.

That is because, they say, the ``Franco-German initiative'' to be discussed today by EC foreign ministers merely repackages proposals that have already been spurned, chiefly by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and his Serbian proxies in Bosnia and Croatia.

The main thrust of the Franco-German initiative holds out a phased suspension of the sanctions if Mr. Milosevic convinces the Bosnian Serbs to cede more territory to the Muslim-led Bosnian government than they agreed to give up in the partition plan that collapsed in late September.

That plan, brokered by international mediators Lord David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, would divide the former Yugoslav republic into Muslim, Serb, and Croat ``ministates.''

But the fine print of the new initiative requires more than just additional territorial concessions by the Bosnian Serbs. It ties an easing of sanctions to implementation of an overall Bosnian settlement. That is something regarded as close to impossible by most observers, who cite the immediate failure of the factions to observe an accord they signed Nov. 18 on the free flow of humanitarian aid.

They also point out that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic has little reason to cooperate in ending the hardships the sanctions are wreaking on his enemies, especially with the recent advances his Army has made against Bosnian Croat forces.

The Franco-German initiative also links an end to the sanctions to a resolution of other thorny problems, including the status of the territory conquered by minority Serbian rebels in Croatia in 1991, greater autonomy for the Vojvodina, Sandzak, and Kosovo regions of Serbia, and disarmament by Belgrade.

``We don't want to see a minimal solution,'' said German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who cosponsored the initiative with his French counterpart, Alain Juppe.

The proposal embodies the key points of the so-called ``global approach'' to resolving the Yugoslav crisis that Messrs. Owen and Stoltenberg have been exploring.

Belgrade's initial response was as icy as the early winter snows.

The proposal is ``an escape from reality and the creation of an alibi for a misguided policy toward Serbia,'' declares Ivica Dacic, the spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic offered to reinstate territorial concessions he withdrew after the Muslim-dominated Bosnian Parliament spurned the latest peace plan. But he has extended nothing more.

President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia has offered them complete autonomy, but within his republic. The rebels remain bound to Milosevic's program of joining a ``Greater Serbia'' that would also comprise rump Yugoslavia and Bosnian Serb-held territories.

Finally, Milosevic has ruled out any linkage between Croatia and Bosnia with minority rights in Kosovo, Sandzak, and Vojvodina, which he contends is Serbia's internal affair.

All this was known beforehand, raising questions about how much real thought went into the new EC initiative.

There is no question that Milosevic hungers for an end to sanctions, especially as his party would profit in Dec. 19 elections for the Serbian Assembly from any movement in that direction.

But most observers and voters have little doubt that the ruling party will triumph because of its control over the news media, which Milosevic has used to say that only an SPS victory will bring an end to the sanctions.

Ironically, the Franco-German offer coincided with new press revelations virtually confirming the involvement of Milosevic and his security apparatus in creating and controlling Serbian paramilitary forces that committed war crimes in Bosnia, a prime reason for the imposition of the sanctions in the first place.

Many observers regard the ``Franco-German initiative'' as no more than an attempt to kickstart the moribund peace process that reflects Western European leaders' lack of new ideas on breaking the deadlock.

In fact, their frustration seems to be so acute that UN officials and some Western governments now appear ready to violate their own principles once again and use the threat of a suspension of humanitarian aid to bludgeon the warring factions into bargaining in good faith.

``If the present political vacuum and lack of cooperation persists, the parties cannot expect the humanitarian commitment, which many of us undertake, to continue indefinitely,'' British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd told Britain's Parliament last week.

Even Stoltenberg hinted at the possibility of an aid curtailment and a UN troop withdrawal, something some senior UN officials have advocated for months.

A UN aid official in Belgrade retorted: ``We've been used before. Now it appears that the international community may use us again.''

Many analysts believe Milosevic is counting on the assumption of the EC presidency in January by Greece, Serbia's only ally, to create conditions for the lifting of the sanctions without the need for him to make sweeping political concessions.

Greece is openly pressing for an end to the measures. Should it forcefully do so as EC president, its 11 partners would face a choice of an embarrassing new feud or a compromise for the sake of the community's paramount goal of preserving unity.

Should major EC players waver in their stances, pressure would build on the Clinton administration to follow their lead or risk yet another blow to already shaky trans-Atlantic cooperation.

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