THE Bosnian Serbs are using diplomatic maneuvering and military pressure to sabotage the ``contact group'' peace initiative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, say Western diplomatic, United Nations, and Bosnian government officials.
``They want to dilute the momentum to gain the precontact-group status and buy time. You don't have to be a genius to make this analysis,'' says Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.
The Bosnian Serbs' apparent goal is to force the five-power contact group to accept its inability to dictate a settlement to the war and bow to Serb demands for an overhaul of the peace plan.
The alternative for the contact group, as the Bosnian Serbs see it, would be watching a third international peace initiative suffer a slow and bloody demise.
The Bosnian Serb political tack seems to be making no headway, with the US, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany holding firm in refusing a new offer Aug. 1 for immediate negotiations on changes to the peace plan.
But the Bosnian Serbs have also been stepping up the military pressure, confident that the contact group and the UN remain unwilling or unable to stop them.
The military pressure began even before the contact group agreed on July 30 to tighten UN sanctions on the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro after the Bosnian Serbs' refusal to accept the peace plan unconditionally.
During the last week in July, Bosnian Serb forces have attacked UN peacekeepers, shut down the UN food airlift to Sarajevo by firing on planes, closed commercial traffic corridors and gas supplies, and killed and wounded civilians in renewed sniping in the capital.
More seriously, they have been violating, without UN or NATO retaliation, the 12-mile and 1.8-mile heavy-weapons exclusion zones respectively declared around Sarajevo and the eastern Muslim enclave of Gorazde, UN officials say.
The Serb muscle-flexing has provoked a dramatic erosion in a July 8 cease-fire, with almost 600 violations registered daily in Sarajevo, where firefights, explosions, and sniping have shattered the relative calm the city has enjoyed since February.
Fighting has also flared anew around Gorazde and resumed after more than a year along the Muslim-Serb confrontation lines east of the southern city of Mostar, UN officials say.
The military actions have been augmented by new bouts of ethnic cleansing, with 226 Muslims expelled since July 16 from Bijeljina, UN officials say.
The lack of a concerted international response to all of this, Western diplomats and UN officials say, has reassured the Bosnian Serbs of the contact group's vulnerability.
``The bluff has been called,'' says a Western diplomat.
The contact group peace plan would divide Bosnia roughly in half between the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs. The Serbs would have to surrender about a third of the 72 percent of the country they have conquered since March 1992.
The Bosnian Serbs would also have to give up the goal of winning international recognition of their territory and uniting with rump Yugoslavia.
Few experts believe the contact group decision to tighten sanctions will work, leaving the five powers with the prospect of carrying out stiffer punitive actions that include the expansion and increased enforcement of the heavy-weapons exclusion zones and greater policing of UN safe areas around six Muslim cities.
As a last resort, the contact group is threatening to grant the Muslim-led Bosnian government an exemption from a UN arms embargo imposed on the six former Yugoslav republics in 1991.
But the unchallenged Bosnian Serb exclusion-zone violations have contributed to widespread doubts here that these measures will ever be implemented.
Those doubts also linger because Britain, France, Russia, as well as the United Nations remain opposed to the tougher measures, contending that if they were implemented, the Bosnian Serbs would no longer regard as neutral the 20,000 man UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR).
Britain, France, and Russia contribute troops to UNPROFOR, but the US, the main advocate of tough action, refuses to send soldiers to Bosnia.
Britain, France, Russian, and UN military and civilian leaders say UNPROFOR should withdraw and the tougher measures be implemented by a NATO force with thousands of US troops.
Washington's refusal to send soldiers to Bosnia makes that highly unlikely, but the Bosnian Serbs are leaving nothing to chance.
The heavy-weapons exclusion zone violations are seen as forceful demonstrations intended to fuel contact-group division over intervention.
``The whole idea of what the zone is supposed to be has been dissolved,'' says a Western disaster-relief expert.