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Bosnian Serbs Defy Mounting Pressures, Reject Peace Plan


THE self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb parliament rejected calls for compromise by its leader and chief patron yesterday, and chose confrontation with the international community by effectively refusing a peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Of all the bad decisions that the parliament could have made, the parliament ... has made the worst and most ominous one," Dobrica Cosic, president of the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro, said as he left the meeting. "This morning, political sanity was defeated," he added grimly.

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"There is simply no other way to go," retorted Ratko Adzic, the hard-line "interior minister" of the self-proclaimed state that Bosnian Serb forces are fighting to carve out.

The decision increases the likelihood of Western military intervention in the 13-month civil war during which the Bosnian Serbs have overrun and "cleansed" roughly 70 percent of Bosnia. Shortly after the parliament session, Bosnian Serb forces reportedly overran Zepa and were killing civilians in one of the last Muslim enclaves in the eastern side of the republic.

Voting at 5 a.m. local time after 17 hours of mostly closed-door debate, the self-styled parliament reaffirmed a decision it made last week not to ratify the peace plan even though it was signed Sunday in Athens by its leader, Radovan Karadzic.

The gathering decided instead to submit the plan to a May 15-16 referendum, a move seen by most observers as a delaying tactic. The plan's rejection in that vote is virtually a foregone conclusion, because it rules out the Bosnian Serbs' goal of securing a self-declared state and unifying it with Serbia and Montenegro.

Authored by international mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, the peace plan would divide Bosnia into 10 ethnically based, largely autonomous provinces. The three main ethnic groups - Muslims, Christian Orthodox Serbs, and Roman Catholic Croats - would each dominate in three provinces and share control of Sarajevo. Both the Bosnian Muslim and Croat leaders have signed the accord.

A tired Mr. Karadzic told a dawn news conference that his unrecognized parliament remained opposed to the plan because the three proposed Serb-dominated provinces would not be linked territorially. Defeat for Milosevic

The "parliament" rejection represented unprecedented humiliation for the Bosnian Serbs' chief patron, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, who attended the meeting to lobby for acceptance of the plan, which he threw his unrivaled political prestige behind last week.

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"We have to preserve our people and not stake everything like a drunken poker player," he said, chiding the delegates in his final speech.

Only in the coming days will it become apparent what the impact of the Bosnian Serbs' defiance will have on their relations with Mr. Milosevic. The session was called to reconsider the plan after the parliament's previous rejection triggered a tightening of UN sanctions imposed almost a year ago on Serbia and Montenegro for supporting the Bosnian Serbs' land grab.

The West has urged Milosevic to demonstrate his sincere backing for the peace plan by cutting off support the Bosnian Serbs' military machine.

In the first of two speeches, Mr. Cosic, the Yugoslav president, appeared to confirm speculation that he and Milosevic decided to back the Vance-Owen plan because the economic havoc caused by the UN sanctions has sapped rump Yugoslavia's ability to continue supporting the Bosnian Serbs. "We have no strength left to continue this war," he said.

Cosic and Milosevic also seem deeply worried that military intervention could fuel political instability in rump Yugoslavia and include attacks on the Yugoslav Army, which has been accused of participating in the fighting in Bosnia. Threat of military intervention

Milosevic, Cosic, Greek Prime Minister Constantin Mitsotakis, Karadzic, and Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic all warned the meeting of the dire consequences of spurning the plan.

"You should not allow the forces that are prepared for intervention to go ahead," Mr. Mitsotakis said. The Serbs regard Greece, with whom they share historic ties and the Orthodox faith, as one of their only remaining friends.

After receiving new security guarantees and under pressure from Milosevic and threats of foreign military intervention, Karadzic relented and signed the plan after weeks of balking. At his news conference yesterday, he acknowledged the real threat of military intervention, but issued a strong warning: "Nobody will predict what will happen because people who live in dramatic circumstances would defend themselves. They are ready to sacrifice and those are the most dangerous of people."

Milosevic, in his second speech, at times was heard shouting through the closed doors of the meeting room as he argued that the plan provided Bosnian Serbs with autonomy within their provinces and the protection of UN troops for those living in proposed Muslim and Croatian provinces. He emphasized that there would be a weak central government comprised of representatives of the three ethnic groups, all of whom would have to agree by consensus on policy matters.

"Alija Izetbegovic has lost the war. He has nothing. The only thing he has is a thin hope of provoking foreign intervention," Milosevic said.

Mr. Adzic, the Bosnian Serb hard-liner, dismissed such appeals. "The reality on the ground is very different than what they think it is."

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