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Rivals Debate U.S. Role in Balkan Crisis, Call for Support of U.N. Plan

By Christine Spolar
and Julia Preston

The Washington Post

United Nations

On the eve of a new round of talks among Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croats, the leaders of two of the warring factions stepped up their pressure on the Clinton administration to support a United Nations peace plan or to intervene in the fighting.

In Sarajevo, the besieged Bosnian capital, President Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim, declared in an interview Thursday that "we want air strikes" as a "more speedy way" to end the war.

But Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, arriving at U.N. headquarters in New York for the talks, urged the Clinton administration to support the plan drawn up by U.N. envoy Cyrus R. Vance and European Community mediator David Owen. "This plan is not perfect but we don't have anything better," Karadzic said in an interview, warning that the new administration would face "another Vietnam" if it chose to send troops into ground combat in Bosnia.

At the White House, President Clinton told reporters, "I think anything, any effort that increases the chances of some ultimately peaceful solution is important." He said the United States "has under review now all of its options" and he called "proper" the position of Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, who told Vance and Owen on Monday that he has questions about the "feasibility" and "practicality" of their plan -- which would divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into 10 semiautonomous provinces.

White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Clinton "is just now saying that if the parties agree to it, that he would support it. But so far all the parties have ... not agreed to it."

In several rounds of talks in Geneva that ended in deadlock last weekend, Izetbegovic's government, Karadzic's Serbs and the Bosnian Croats all accepted the Vance-Owen plan in principle, but only the Croats agreed with the map of proposed provinces.

"We accepted the idea of 10 provinces but not the shape of them," Izetbegovic said in the interview. "Ethnic division is bad, but there is something worse -- unjust ethnic division." He charged that the Vance-Owen map would reward Bosnian Serbs' "ethnic cleansing" -- the practice of mass expulsions of other communal groups.

"Regardless of what the Security Council does," Izetbegovic said, "we will not accept the plan." If the council supports the Vance-Owen map, "it implies that genocide can be carried out and rewarded."

Karadzic, in New York, said Bosnian Serbs agree with all but 20 percent of the Vance-Owen map, which would reduce the areas under their control from the current 70 percent to about 43 percent of Bosnia's land. He proposed that the Serbs and Muslims, meeting at the United Nations, should draw up lists of the disputed territories and engage in "horse-trading."

In areas where there has been no "ethnic shifting" -- the term he used in preference to "ethnic cleansing" -- local referendums should be held, Karadzic proposed, to resolve control. He predicted that Muslims who end up in Serb provinces would move to Muslim provinces, and that few of an estimated 700,000 Muslim refugees would return to their homes if they became part of predominantly Serb provinces.

But without a peace settlement, Karadzic said, Serb authorities could not guarantee there would be no more ethnic purges in Serb-held areas because "it's difficult for us to control small places."

Before fighting broke out last spring, Slavic Muslims made up 44 percent of Bosnia's population, with Serbs at 31 percent and Croats at 17 percent. Under the Vance-Owen plan, Croats and Muslims would each dominate about 25 percent of Bosnian territory while Sarajevo, the capital, would be in a jointly controlled province. The U.N. plan would give the Serbs more territory in proportion to their population but Serb spokesmen say most of their people were farmers, spread out over about 60 percent of the prewar republic.

Izetbegovic, interviewed in his office in Sarajevo's Bosnian Presidency building, renewed his call for a lifting of the U.N. arms embargo to all the Yugoslav republics so Bosnians could buy arms to offset the Serbs' supplies from Serbia and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav army. He said he did not want foreign soldiers fighting in Bosnia.

"We don't want your boys on the ground," the Bosnian president said.

He expressed confidence, however, that "there is support in America to send us arms. ... I don't know whose side Clinton might be taking or Congress is taking, but I do know the American people are on our side."

Karadzic, meanwhile, warned that Serbs "will defend ourselves" if foreign troops are sent to Bosnia. But he also expressed confidence that Serb militias would lay down arms if a settlement is reached.

"Don't worry," he said, "Serbs aren't born fighters. They would rather drive a Toyota than a tank."