U.S. aides expect to propose making Bosnian peace plan fairer to Muslims

February 09, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United States, avoiding for now the use of military force in the Balkans, is expected to propose changes in an international peace plan for war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina to make it fairer to Bosnian Muslims and more "workable," U.S. officials said yesterday.

In a long-awaited policy statement on the most serious foreign crisis confronting the United States and its allies, the Clinton administration will also unveil a package of tighter sanctions, increased humanitarian aid, war-crimes prosecutions and human-rights guarantees to bolster Bosnian Muslims in peace negotiations, sources said yesterday.

The policy nearing completion marks a significant retreat from expectations raised during the campaign that the Clinton administration would quickly use air and naval power to halt Serbian aggression.

The administration apparently recognizes for now that it could not get the necessary support from Europe and Russia to lift an arms embargo on Bosnian Muslims, a move advocated by some administration officials and strongly backed by a number of Muslim countries.

But in inserting itself strongly into diplomacy, the administration is staking out a new role for the United States. Pressure has been mounting on the United States to declare its intentions, with peace talks among the warring parties stalled and renewed fighting under way in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

The new policy received what could be its final review by President Clinton yesterday, and diplomatic sources here said it might be unveiled by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher today or tomorrow.

Mr. Clinton, during a photo opportunity with visiting Turkish President Turgut Ozal, said yesterday that his administration was "very close" to making a policy statement on the war in former Yugoslavia.

"As you know, we've done an awful lot of work on it. I spent a lot of time on it last week, and a consider able amout of time today, so we're quite close," the president said.

Parts of the policy emerged yesterday as the United Nations Security Council, in New York, was briefed formally by international mediators Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen on their cantonization proposal to end fighting by Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia.

The focus of high-level administration deliberations over the past week has been whether to endorse or reject a peace plan drawn up over a period of five months by Mr. Vance, representing the United Nations, and Lord Owen, for the European Community.

Senior administration officials settled on a middle course. While keeping the Vance-Owen process as a "framework," sources said, they will propose changes in the actual plan to make it fairer to Bosnian Muslims and more workable.

"To the degree that the parties have something they understand contains workable solutions, you're more likely to get" an agreement, a senior U.S. official said.

Officials declined to spell out the suggested changes. They could include shifts in territories apportioned to each side in a map creating 10 autonomous provinces. Additionally, they could include changes in the constitutional plans spelled out by the mediators, which now call for a central government made up of representatives of the three sides.

OC There could also be changes in the military arrangements, under

which U.N. peacekeepers would monitor withdrawal of weaponry from contested areas.

The Clinton administration believes the existing peace process has advanced too far on the basis of the Vance-Owen plan for it to be discarded.

"We're not going to reject it," a senior administration official said as top Clinton advisers neared the end of their deliberations.

Instead, the U.S. package reflects a major concern, expressed by Mr. Clinton, that the plan would leave Muslims at a disadvantage if the other parties did not accept it in good faith.

The United States is expected to enlist Russia, which has historic ties with Serbia, to win Serbian acceptance of changes in the peace plan.

Anxious to increase pressure on Bosnian Serbs and their patrons in Belgrade, the Clinton administration is pointedly not ruling out pTC military action to enforce compliance with an eventual peace agreement. The package of measures the United States is supporting also is aimed at weakening Serbia militarily and economically so that it will be more likely to grant negotiating concessions to the Muslims.

Here are probable elements of the emerging U.S. plan, as outlined by sources in recent days:

* Sanctions. Stronger steps, involving pressure on Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, to block the movement of oil along the Danube into Serbian hands. * Humanitarian aid. With the region already in the grip of a harsh mid-winter, the administration intends to see that there is stepped-up delivery of food and medical relief.

* War crimes. The United States is likely to endorse a proposal being circulated by France for the U.N. Security Council to set up an international tribunal to try war criminals. * Human rights. The administration, following advice from Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and others, will propose measures to tighten the enforcement of human-rights guarantees in an eventual peace settlement with the aim of preventing new ethnic cleansing.

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