Bosnian Serb legislature accepts peace plan Plan's acceptance crucial to talks

January 21, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Bosnian Serb leaders accepted the Geneva peace plan yesterday, opening prospects for an end to hostilities that have ravaged the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina for eight months.

The Bosnian Serb legislature was acting under the threat of outside military intervention and heavy pressure from Belgrade by Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

The vote in a closed-door session was 55-15, with one abstention, according to Health Minister Dragan Kalinic.

Delegates said the assembly had attached no conditions to the vote.

Bosnia's Muslims and Croats have tentatively accepted the plan. But fighting for territory is expected to continue until all the details are worked out.

The plan -- drafted by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, representing the United Nations, and Britain's Lord Owen, representing the European Community -- would break Bosnia into autonomous ethnic cantons.

Bosnian Serbs had wanted a completely independent region of their own in Bosnia, one which might have merged eventually with Serbia.

Acceptance of the plan was crucial for the continuation of peace talks in Geneva, which will resume Saturday.

In Sarajevo, Mr. Vance and Lord Owen welcomed the vote and, in another hopeful sign, said they had secured agreement to an immediate cease-fire in clashes between the Muslims and their ostensible Croat allies.

"We agreed . . . there would be a cessation of hostilities and cease-fire to take effect immediately," Lord Owen said after meeting Muslim President Ilija Izetbegovic and Prime Minister Mile Akmadzic, a Bosnian Croat.

Mr. Izetbegovic this week openly accused the Croats of "aggression" and threatened to raise the issue in the United Nations. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman brushed aside the accusations while calling for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Croatia.

An escalation in Croat-Muslim hostilities followed reports of secret Serbian-Croatian negotiations on the territorial division of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In these talks, conducted in Hungary, the two sides reportedly discussed territorial exchanges under which the Serbs would retain a vital corridor linking the eastern and western Serbian provinces envisaged in the plan.

It was not known which Serb-held territories have been offered in exchange, but diplomats speculated about Serb-populated territories in Croatia.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic defended his acceptance of the Vance-Owen plan by asserting that the Serbs would be able to retain a sliver of territory linking Serbian territories.

He also argued that the plan came as close as possible to having an independent Serbian state with in Bosnia.

The leading hard-liner, Vice President Biljana Plavsic, vigorously opposed the plan on the ground that the Serbs were giving up the state they had created and that it was only a matter of time before the "hostile" international community turns on rump Yugoslavia in an effort to dismember it.

But in the end the majority decided to support Mr. Karadzic.

"We chose the lesser of the two evils," said Ms. Plavsic. "I'm pleased, I'm very proud to see democracy at work. Time will tell who was right, who was wrong."

But there were strong indications that the Bosnian Serbs saw the plan only as a starting point for negotiations and that they were unlikely to give up their dream of a separate state that could eventually join with Serbia.

Mr. Karadzic gave a clear warning that maps were also likely to be a major sticking point for the Bosnian Serbs.

"The maps are a good basis for further discussion, but not a final solution," he said.

He added that the Bosnian Serbs would probably put any final formula to a referendum and that all Serbs who had been forced from their homes by the fighting should be allowed to return to participate in such a vote.

A parliamentary rejection of the plan would have meant a bleak immediate future for the Serbs. Serbia proper faces a tightening of sanctions -- EC foreign ministers met last week to discuss a total isolation. The outside world would move to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia. The possibility of a large-scale military intervention in Bosnia would become more likely.

In an interview the other day, Mr. Karadzic explained why he had accepted the plan at the eleventh hour last week after initially rejecting it: "I decided to look at it in a different way: to stop looking at what the Serbs were not getting and look at what the Muslims were not getting. And I realized they were not getting very much, so I decided to go along with it,' he said.

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