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Bosnian Muslims Reject Partition Plan, Call for More Negotiations

By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times

SPLIT, Croatia

The Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina Saturday rejected a formula for ethnic partition of the country but urged further peace talks, raising new doubts about prospects for the international community's only viable plan for ending Bosnia's civil war.

In an exhausting two-day session in the capital of Sarajevo, the Muslim-led Parliament unanimously agreed to continue peace talks in Geneva this week in the hope of winning more territory and guarantees that provisions for reversing ethnic cleansing and protecting the country as an international entity will be implemented.

"We are asking for crucial changes. The international identity of Bosnia-Herzegovina must be affirmed," said Muhamed Filipovic, a member of the government's delegation to the peace talks.

But while the Bosnian government's reservations about the plan threatened to throw new obstacles in the way of bringing peace to the embattled nation, there were clear indications that government leaders are abandoning their dream of a single multiethnic nation.

"They (the Serbs) still have 1,000 tanks against us, and if we don't find a solution, Bosnia will be destroyed," Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic said in an emotional address to the assembly.

The current peace plan, drawn up by Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders with Izetbegovic's reluctant participation, calls for demilitarizing the country and creating three loosely federated ethnic republics with a common presidency and foreign ministry. Citizens are guaranteed the right to live anywhere in the country regardless of ethnic background.

Bosnian Serb legislators, meeting in Pale in the mountains above Sarajevo, voted 55-14 for unconditional acceptance of the plan. It would force them to give up much of the land they have gained during 17 months of war but award them the greatest share of territory -- about 52 percent, compared to 30 percent for Muslims and 18 percent for Croats.

"We have all the conditions to achieve a settlement without much more talks if we all accept it in good faith, and I do hope we can implement it very soon," said Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who prevailed over hard-line Serbs who objected to forfeiting Serbian military gains in Bosnia.

Karadzic warned that "if the Muslims do not accept the plan now, every next map could only be worse for them, and in case the war continues, they will lose everything."

Croat leaders, meeting in the central Bosnian town of Grude, took a step toward implementation of the peace plan by formally declaring an independent Bosnian Croat republic, but indicated that they, too, would seek adjustments in the territorial map drawn up in Geneva.

"It is imperative that corrections be made," said Croat leader Mate Boban. "There are details which are illogical."

Just how much more the Muslims will demand may not be clear until Monday, when leaders of the three communities are scheduled to present their responses to international mediators Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg. The precise wording of the Bosnian Parliament's action was not to be released until Sunday.

But there were indications that the Muslim-led government would seek to improve its 30 percent share of territory, perhaps to as much as 36 percent. Muslims are seeking access corridors to Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia and also a permanent access to the sea. The plan permits them access to two ports, but both would be located in a neighboring country, Croatia.

Fighting has been at a lull throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina during the past two days of parliamentary discussions, and in an important breakthrough in central Bosnia, part of a U.N. aid convoy trapped by Muslim demonstrators in Mostar was allowed to leave Saturday afternoon.