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Ouster of Balkan Mediator Sought : Diplomacy: European Parliament criticizes Britain's Lord Owen for his attempt to carve Bosnia-Herzegovina into ethnic ministates.


SOFIA, Bulgaria — The European Parliament appealed Thursday for dismissal of Britain's Lord Owen as mediator in the paralyzed Balkan peace talks and criticized his attempt to carve Bosnia-Herzegovina into ethnic ministates.

The 160-90 vote taken at Parliament headquarters in Strasbourg, France, was purely advisory, but it reflected a growing sentiment among some governments in the 12-nation European Union (formerly the European Community) that ethnic partitioning could set a dangerous precedent in Eastern Europe.

Bosnian government officials have repeatedly appealed for Owen's resignation or dismissal, accusing him and the Western states he represents of having capitulated to border changes that Serbian rebels have accomplished by force.

The Parliament urged the EU to designate another mediator and change both its strategy and the mandate it has conferred on the fruitless peace forum in Geneva that Owen has overseen for 18 months.

Owen and his U.N. counterpart, Thorvald Stoltenberg of Norway, "have arrived at no result and . . . persist in wanting to cut Bosnia-Herzegovina along ethnic lines," the Parliament said.

The mediators have allowed the Geneva talks to focus on a division of Bosnia among its three main ethnic groups, largely because the international community has rejected the use of force to roll back Serbian territorial seizures.

Lacking any mandate from either the EU or the United Nations to threaten the combatants with military deterrence, Owen and Stoltenberg last fall left it to the warring factions to come up with their own plans for a peace settlement. That spurred a joint Serbian-Croatian proposal for ethnic partitioning, which the Bosnian government rejected in September.

Several EU states have recently complained that the Geneva talks were exerting pressure on the chief victims of the war, the Bosnian Muslims, to accept defeat and settle for whatever territory their tormentors left them.


NATO leaders earlier this month renewed threats of air strikes against Serbian rebels if they continued to strangle Sarajevo and other civilian communities. But U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has ruled against that proposed use of force, saying it would endanger U.N. troops already deployed in Bosnia on an often-thwarted humanitarian mission and that air strikes alone would not be sufficient to relieve the sieges.

Like the EU leaders, officials in the Balkans are fearful of the precedent an ethnic carve-up would set. They point to multiethnic Macedonia as another former Yugoslav republic ripe for nationalist warfare.

"We wouldn't like to see Bosnia divided and are all the more opposed to the principles by which this is being done," said Bulgaria's deputy foreign minister, Dimitar Ikonomov. "There really are no principles, but rather the dictatorship of arms and force."


After the Parliament vote, EU foreign affairs chief Hans van den Broek of the Netherlands contended that it was unfair to criticize Owen for simply carrying out the limited instructions of the EU governments.

John Mills, a spokesman for Owen, told reporters in Geneva that the British peer intends to stay on. "Lord Owen remains committed to mediating between the parties and ending the war in Bosnia," Mills said.

The parliamentary swipe at Owen followed the collapse Thursday of another round of talks in Geneva, where the three parties departed after a two-day session further from an agreement than ever.

Fighting has escalated in Bosnia since the Muslim-led government refused to capitulate to the Serbian-Croatian terms for peace. Those terms would have allowed annexation of conquered Bosnian territory to Serbia and Croatia, leaving a landlocked and devastated Bosnia made up of less than 30% of its original territory.

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