ZAGREB, Yugoslavia -- U.N. envoy Cyrus R. Vance declared a breakthrough yesterday in the 6-month-old Yugoslav civil war after Serbian and Croatian leaders backed his plan for ending the conflict that already has taken almost 10,000 lives.
While Mr. Vance's newfound optimism suggested that war fatigue may be improving the prospects for peace, fighting raged across Croatia on New Year's Day, and the warring factions still appeared unwilling to meet U.N. conditions for foreign intervention.
Mr. Vance, on his fifth trip to Yugoslavia since being appointed special U.N. mediator in the crisis, emerged from a meeting with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to declare the situation "very radically changed" since his last visit in early December.
"I've seen steps taken that have not been taken before, [including] the acceptance of our proposal in its entirety, in full, by both sides," Mr. Vance told reporters. "We have a ways to go yet, but we, I think, have made progress."
In separate meetings with Mr. Vance over the past two days, Mr. Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic pledged their support for stationing as many as 10,000 foreign troops inside Croatia to separate the combatants in three key areas.
Mr. Vance also called on Croatian military authorities and those of the Yugoslav federal army to meet today to discuss terms for a new cease-fire. It would be the 15th truce since fighting intensified after the June 25 declarations of independence by Croatia and Slovenia.
Mr. Vance, a former U.S. secretary of state, was unable to offer any predictions on when a U.N. peacekeeping force could be deployed, but he made it clear that he sensed greater willingness on the part of republic leaders to work for an end to the conflict.
Croatian officials also appeared pleased, perhaps hopeful that the U.N. deployment, as outlined by Mr. Vance, would allow some of the republic's 400,000 refugees to return to their homes in areas of Croatia now controlled by Serbian rebels. "This is the first sign that we could really achieve a stop to the war," a buoyant Mr. Tudjman told reporters.
But Mr. Tudjman and Mr. Milosevic endorsed the same U.N. peacekeeping plan almost six weeks ago during a meeting with Mr. Vance in Geneva, raising suspicion among some foreign observers that the reported breakthrough is more of a time-buying maneuver.
What may be driving the two republic leaders in their apparent campaign for U.N. support is fear that the war's current course is leading them to personal destruction. Each also hopes that U.N. intervention would be seen as a partial victory for his side.