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Bosnian Serb Leader Bids for Bargaining Time

Karadzic bows to UN plan, but may be in trouble with his troops

BOSNIAN Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has raised serious misgivings even among his own supporters over his acceptance of a United Nations-European Community peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina - on condition it be approved by his self-styled parliament.

Political analysts warned that Karadzic's dramatic announcement after the breakdown of Geneva peace talks on Tuesday may have been merely a ruse to forestall foreign military intervention.

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"What Karadzic wants to do is to keep talking. He doesn't want the talks to stop because that greatly strengthens those in the West arguing for intervention," a Western diplomat says.

"But he certainly will not give up his plans to keep the territory his forces have taken. He wants to create enough mixed signals and confusion to allow the peace conference to resume so that the West cannot argue for intervention," the diplomat adds.

Says Milos Vasic, a senior writer with the liberal Belgrade magazine Vreme says: "Probably Karadzic is just playing for time."

Even if Karadzic were sincere, analysts suggest, the odds are slim that his extremist-dominated "parliament" will approve the Vance-Owen plan.

During a break in the Geneva talks last week, Karadzic presented the plan to his assembly, selected among representatives of his Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia. It was vehemently rejected. Delegates contended it would nullify their political aims and military gains and proclaimed their readiness to take on Western military might.

"Karadzic is in trouble," says Mr. Vasic, suggesting that he could face a revolt within both his political and military ranks.

Karadzic announced his unexpected change of heart only hours after UN special envoy Cyrus Vance and EC mediator Lord David Owen suspended the Geneva conference because of the Bosnian Serb leader's refusal to accept the peace proposal. The plan would divide Bosnia into 10 largely autonomous provinces under a weak central government.

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Karadzic had stubbornly opposed the proposal, insisting on his demand to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina between the three ethnic groups and accept the state his forces have been fighting to conquer in 70 percent of Bosnia's territory since March.

The international community, particularly Western and Islamic nations, have expressed impatience with Serbian intransigence amid massive pressure to end the suffering of hundreds of thousands trapped in besieged, winter-bound towns and cities.

Karadzic's announcement that he would accept the Vance-Owen plan if his "parliament" approves it within a week came after a meeting with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Dobrica Cosic, president of the rump Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro, and President Momir Bulatovic of Montenegro.

Mr. Milosevic, the main ideological and political patron of the Bosnian Serbs, hailed the move as a "great step toward peace." Milosevic seeks to unify all 8.5 million Serbs of former Yugoslavia in a "Greater Serbia" by annexing territories overrun by Serbian forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and neighboring Croatia.

In that light, Vance noted that Milosevic's backing of the peace plan was significant.

Political analysts also drew attention to the fine print in the statements the Serbian leaders made, pointing out there were still no indications they were ready to abandon the quest for "Greater Serbia."

Citing his "painful" endorsement of the plan, Mr. Cosic said: "The circumstances have forced me not to agree in front of the whole world with my brothers in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But that disagreement is not in goals or a lack of understanding or disapproving the goals of their liberation struggle, but in tactics."

Karadzic's self-styled vice president, Biljana Plavsic, appeared to say those tactics would hold firm when asked by the British Broadcasting Corporation if the "assembly" would accept the plan.

"No," she replied. "It is completely clear to me. I know the stand not only of the representatives of the assembly, but also the opinion of the Serbian people in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the people on the front lines. It is completely clear to him [Karadzic] that the last word is the word of our assembly," she added.

Karadzic acknowledged the difficulty of selling the plan to his political leadership, telling the BBC that he would offer his resignation if he failed.

Yet some political analysts say they believe that if Karadzic and Milosevic proceed carefully, they might be able to wrest some kind of provisional agreement from the assembly that could allow new negotiating room.

That might encourage Vance and Owen to resume the Geneva talks, thereby averting the twin threats to Karadzic of Western military intervention and tightened sanctions.

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