Western Leaders Wary Of Bosnian Serb Pitch To Ex-President Carter

UNITED Nations and Western leaders have reacted with considerable skepticism to the invitation issued by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to former US President Jimmy Carter to mediate the three-year Bosnian war.

United States and UN officials believe that Mr. Karadzic's motive is to win the support of the influential former US president for changes in an international peace plan calling for an ethnic division of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

``Karadzic is making yet another attempt to undermine the `contact group' plan,'' says a senior official with the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Zagreb.

``He wants Carter to go up there to Pale,'' says the official, referring to the Bosnain Serb headquarters east of Sarajevo. ``He wants the attention of higher level negotiations. It gives the fiction that he is serious about negotiating, but he doesn't want to negotiate on the basis of the contact group plan.''

The contact group, comprised of US, French, German, British, and Russian negotiators, offered a plan last summer that would divide Bosnia roughly in half between the Bosnian Serbs and a federation formed by Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. The Bosnian Serbs rejected the plan because it would deny them their goal of an independent state and force them to relinquish a sizeable chunk of territory captured in the war that erupted in March 1992.

The contact group has refused to change the plan - which has been accepted by the Muslim-Croat federation - saying alterations could be negotiated only if accepted by Bosnian Serbs.

The peace process has been stalled because of the intransigence of the Bosnian Serbs. Contact group members have also been divided over whether concessions should be made to the Serbs and over the use of NATO airpower to protect a UN-declared ``safe-haven'' in the northwestern Muslim enclave of Bihac.

Carter announced on Wednesday that he had been invited by Karadazic to mediate the conflict. He said he would travel to Pale - as a private citizen - only if Karadzic followed through within 24 hours on promises to free UN peacekeepers being held hostage, to allow free movement of relief convoys, to observe a cease-fire in and around Sarajevo, and to stop firing on the capital's airport. Karadzic also promised to release Muslim prisoners of war aged 19 and younger and to ``guarantee human rights now and in the future.''

But a UN helicopter was shot at yesterday and Serb forces blocked a UN convoy, hours after Karadzic offered the plan.

Fulfillment of the promises would not bring Bosnia any closer to peace. Instead, it would simply freeze existing battle lines, allowing the Serbs to retain territory recently captured around Bihac, Western officials said.

``This is not a peace plan,'' says UNPROFOR spokesman Michael Williams.

The White House gave its cautious approval to the Carter mission, but voiced concern that Karadzic's real intention was to undermine the five-power peace plan. ``We are skeptical about the Bosnian Serbs intentions ...,'' a White House spokesman said.

On two previous missions as a private citizen, Carter negotiated the departure of Haitian military strongman Raul Cedras and the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrande Aristide, and then in North Korea, he opened the door to an eventual agreement committing the Pyongyang government to freeze its nuclear program and adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In both cases, Carter secured terms that were less than what the administration had called for publicly, exposing President Clinton to charges of appeasement.

Some senior Western officials openly opposed a possible Carter mission to mediate an end to the Bosnian war. ``I do not see any indication of a peace plan,'' NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes told a news conference in Brussels yesterday. ``This is just an elaboration of points. I do not believe that if there is a willingness for a cease-fire there is a need for an intermediary.''

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