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U.S. Envoy Presses Plan to End Warfare in Balkans : Europe: Senior diplomat meets Bosnian leaders despite signs they dislike proposal. Russians are skeptical.


WASHINGTON — A senior American diplomat Tuesday pressed forward with a new U.S. plan to end the Balkan warfare despite signs that Russia is skeptical about the initiative and that the Muslim-led but secular government of Bosnia-Herzegovina is determined to defeat it.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke met with Bosnian leaders in the Croatian port of Split about what a State Department spokesman called "fresh ideas . . . to try to bring the combatants to the [negotiating] table."

Holbrooke was scheduled to talk with Croatian officials in Zagreb today and with Serbian leaders in Belgrade.

In Split, Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey told reporters after three hours of talks with Holbrooke that the Clinton Administration reaffirmed prior commitments for the use of American troops to enforce a Bosnian peace settlement.

Over the last week, the Administration has refused to release details of its new peace initiative. The proposal was drawn up by the White House earlier this month after Croatia carried out a successful offensive against rebel Serbs on its territory.

One State Department official in Washington asserted Tuesday that the secret U.S. plan calls for official recognition "of everybody by everybody. . . . Bosnia-Herzegovina is going to remain intact." Yet U.S. officials also acknowledged that the plan may include readjusting of territory within Bosnia.

That idea is anathema to the Bosnian government. Saying "we will never trade our country," Muhammad Filipovic, the Bosnian ambassador to London, appeared furious at reports that under the Administration's plan, the Muslims might be required to give up the eastern enclave of Gorazde in exchange for more territory around the capital, Sarajevo.

"New attempts to justify and legalize Serbian crimes, which are being described as the peace plan, have not any importance to us and cannot be accepted," he said.

Sacirbey said Holbrooke assured him Tuesday that the Americans are not asking that Gorazde be traded for territory around Sarajevo. "They did not have their ideas in stone," he said.

U.S. officials also emphasized that they will not impose a peace settlement on the Bosnian government. But they made clear that they may try to persuade Bosnia to go along with the plan by adding incentives. One possible incentive is money. Holbrooke is said to be carrying proposals for a package of Western aid for reconstructing Bosnia.

But so far, no details have been made public. "This [Clinton Administration plan] is so closely held, it's incredible," one Administration official said Tuesday.

The Administration launched its Balkan peace initiative last week when the President dispatched National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and Under Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff to European capitals. Holbrooke was sent to the Balkans this week to discuss the plan with officials in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

State Department spokesman David Johnson said Tuesday that the United States is trying to use the map drafted by the Contact Group--the major powers working together for peace in Bosnia--as a "starting point" in the negotiations. The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia make up the Contact Group.

Sacirbey said he was assured by Holbrooke that the United States is "committed to maintaining the Contact Group framework, including the 51-49 divide on territory."

The Contact Group's map gives 51% of the land in Bosnia to the Bosnian government and 49% to the Bosnian Serbs. The Bosnian Serbs now control about 70% of the land.

"As far as we are concerned, you can start [peace negotiations] with the same map," Sacirbey said, but he added, "Some things have changed on the ground."

In Moscow, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Russia welcomes the new American efforts to settle the Balkan conflict, but he added that Washington's peace package contains a military element unacceptable to Moscow.

"We need to give an additional political impulse to settle the conflict," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin told a news conference. But as for measures "providing for use of military force, the U.S. proposals are not acceptable to us."

Meantime, in Belgrade, officials of the rump Yugoslavia said Tuesday that the government there has replaced Foreign Minister Vladimir Jovanovic with a close associate of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

A statement carried by the state Tanjug news agency said Milan Milutinovic, now ambassador to Greece, will take Jovanovic's place. Jovanovic was nominated to be Yugoslavia's permanent representative to the United Nations.

The moves came after months of debate over Jovanovic's hard-line stand in peace talks on the wars in Bosnia and Croatia.

Times staff writer Dean E. Murphy in Split contributed to this report.

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