A new breakthrough in the peace talks to end the Bosnian war appeared in sight Thursday night when mediators said President Alija Izetbegovic, head of the Sarajevo government, might agree Friday to the division of the country into 10 mostly autonomous provinces.
If he accepts a map defining these provinces that has been prepared by the mediators, Cyrus R. Vance for the United Nations and Lord Owen for the European Community, he will isolate the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, leaving him as the only negotiator still opposed to the division.Isolating the Serbs has been a goal of the mediators since they moved the peace talks here from Geneva in February. They hope that enough pressure could then be brought on the Serbs by Russia and the Serbian republic government to force the nationalist forces to accept the map.
"The talks have not collapsed," Vance said after two and a half hours of talks with Izetbegovic. "I'm hopeful."
"We made progress, there's no doubt of that" was Owen's parting comment. "When people look over the brink and see only continuing war, they face up to realities."
Officials involved in the negotiations say they are reasonably confident Izetbegovic will sign the new map before he leaves New York on Friday. This would mean the Muslims would join the Croats in accepting the whole of the Vance-Owen peace plan.
The Serbs have agreed to the basic principles underlying the settlement and proposals for a cease-fire and the disengagement of forces. But Karadzic refused again on Thursday to accept the proposed division of the country, which would reduce the lands that the Serbs control to about 42 percent, from 70 percent, deprive them of the best mines and industrial factories, and leave some 30 percent of all Bosnian Serbs living in land controlled by Muslims or Croats.