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Mediators Urge Support for Balkan Peace Plan; Christopher Hesitant on Endorsement

By Julia Preston
The Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS

Cyrus R. Vance and David Owen, the mediators in stalled peace talks in the Balkans, urged the United States Monday to issue a statement of support for their plan as a way of getting the warring parties back to the negotiating table.

"We want them to endorse our proposal," Owen said. The United States' clout is especially needed, he said, to persuade the mainly Muslim government in Bosnia to sign on to the Vance-Owen blueprint, the basis of six months of negotiations that were suspended Saturday in Geneva.

Owen later called on the Clinton administration to follow the lead of Britain and France and send ground troops to Bosnia, a move many U.S. officials oppose.

"It's all very well for the United States to criticize from the sidelines," Owen told CNN. "Why don't they come in? It would give the peace settlement a bigger chance."

But Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher stopped short of embracing the troubled plan at a press conference Monday afternoon.

Although he said the savage warfare in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a high priority for the Clinton administration, Christopher avoided any comment about the Vance-Owen plan. Christopher spoke before he met with the mediators Monday evening.

The mediators' appeal came after a day of uncertainty at the United Nations. The Security Council was caught by surprise by their weekend decision to adjourn the talks to New York to seek a show of council support.

Several key council diplomats said Monday that no decision will be made on whether or how to pressure the warring parties to return to the table before Vance and Owen meet with council members to persuade them their plan is still viable.

The Security Council is also looking to the Clinton administration to define its approach to the vastly complicated conflict. The administration has undertaken a broad review of its options, including possible military intervention, but diplomats here said that time has run out for reflection.

"I suspect this week's events will precipitate their taking a view," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador, David Hannay.

Vance represents the United Nations and Owen the European Community in the talks. They have proposed a plan which calls for Bosnia to be divided into 10 autonomous provinces that would be largely independent of a weak central government.

Some critics charge that the Vance-Owen plan amounts to "ethnic cantonization" which the United States has called unacceptable.

However, the negotiators contend that the borders they have drawn would reflect not only local communal majorities but geographic, historic and economic factors as well.

Only Bosnia's Croats have approved all parts of the proposed settlement. The Serbs complain that the map drawn by Vance and Owen would roll back the territorial gains they made in heavy fighting from 70 percent to 43 percent of Bosnia.

The Muslims, who have objected most strongly, argue that the plan would reward Serb aggression by legitimizing territorial gains made through military force and the forced deportations known as "ethnic cleansing."

Vance said he is not discouraged by the announcement Monday by Bosnia's Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic that he will send his foreign minister to New York Wednesday when the talks are expected to start again, but will not attend himself.

"He has said he has been away for a long time and needs to be on home territory at this time," Vance said.