PARIS -- Bosnia's Muslim-led government and its Serbian nationalist foes agreed yesterday on adjustments to a peace plan that would partition the country. Hours later, mediators called leaders of the three parties to the Bosnian war to a meeting in Sarajevo on Tuesday, apparently in the hope that they will be ready to sign a long-awaited peace accord.
After negotiations on the plan to create three autonomous ethnic republics broke down Sept. 1, the mediators said they would schedule a new round of talks only when progress seemed likely. Yesterday, United Nations spokesman John Mills said the mediators now saw signs of "added flexibility" from the parties.
"We have made progress," Lord Owen, the European Community's mediator, said in Geneva yesterday after a secret meeting with President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia and Momcilo Krajisnik, the head of the Bosnian Serbs' parliament.
The main novelty in the new agreement is that, two years after a peace accord goes into effect, referendums would be held in each of the autonomous republics to determine whether they wish to remain part of the union of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This would seem to be a step toward the early disintegration of the union, allowing the Bosnian Serb republic to join Serbia and ++ the Bosnian Croat republic to become part of Croatia. The agreement states that if this happens, the remaining Muslim republic would retain the union's seat at the United Nations.
Experts said that although the Muslim republic's international status would be assured, the decision was a concession by Mr. Izetbegovic, who had long fought to maintain Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unified multiethnic state. As now drafted, the peace plan states that no republic can secede from the union without the agreement of the other two.
The experts added that this concession might be the price that Mr. Izetbegovic must pay to obtain more Serbian-controlled land for his republic in eastern and northwestern Bosnia and guaranteed access to the Adriatic. Mr. Izetbegovic had refused to agree to the partition plan unless the Muslim republic was given more territory and the Croatian-controlled port of Neum.
The agreement between the Sarajevo government and the Serbs also calls for an end to hostilities by tomorrow and the closing of detention camps by Monday. An agreement between Bosnia's Muslims and Croatia was reached two days ago.
Diplomats warned that any breakthrough at Tuesday's meeting in Sarajevo could depend on whether the agreements for ending the fighting and freeing political prisoners are respected. "The record of broken agreements in Bosnia is pretty long," a Western diplomat in Geneva said.
But Lord Owen and the U.N. envoy, Thorvald Stoltenberg, who have been pursuing their mediation efforts informally over the last two weeks, reportedly believe that the new agreements are evidence that the warring parties remain committed to ending the war.
When the talks were suspended, all three sides had already accepted much of the mediators' peace plan, including the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina into three ethnic republics.
But the Serbs and Croats rebuffed Muslim demands for more Serbian-held territory and for a seaport. At the time, Mr. Izetbegovic said he would never accept an agreement that allowed Serbs to retain land seized by force and subjected to "ethnic cleansing."
Returning to Sarajevo from Geneva yesterday, Mr. Izetbegovic said at a news conference that "I want to state once more that we will not give up our requests," and he expressed doubt that the work of mediators would be completed by Tuesday.