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In a Game of Balkan Chess, Powers Try to Corner Serbia

Plan would make peace in Croatia first, then Bosnia

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WITH peace prospects fading in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the big powers are devising a broader plan for peace in the former Yugoslavia, the Monitor has learned.

The plan hinges on gaining the support of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who has refused to recognize the sovereignty of both Croatia and Bosnia in their battles with ethnic Serbs in both states.

But the strategy faces several hurdles, and unity among the Western mediators, already fragile, has been further strained by President Clinton's unilateral move last Thursday to stop enforcing an arms embargo against Bosnia.

Known as ``Plan B,'' the plan offers more ``carrot'' to Mr. Milosevic to join international peace efforts in both Bosnia and Croatia in exchange for further easing of the United Nations sanctions against Serbia.

Placing emphasis on ending the conflict between Croatia and its rebel Serbs, the strategy rounds out an overall approach by the ``contact group'' - mediators from the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and Germany - to ending the crisis ignited by the 1991 breakup of former Yugoslavia.

The mediators ``have not yet found common ground on everything,'' admits one diplomatic source. ``The idea is to give the Croatian question the same priority as the Bosnian question.''

The emerging approach would link easing of UN economic sanctions with Milosevic's recognition of Bosnia and Croatia, Western diplomatic sources say.

Milosevic is desperate to have the sanctions lifted. By recognizing Bosnia and Croatia, Milosevic would be showing he no longer covets annexation of the areas seized by rebel Serb armies that he helped create in those states.

Faced with total abandonment by their erstwhile patron, the logic goes, the rebel Bosnian and Croatian Serbs would be more amenable to peace.

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