U.S., France Defend Plan for Bosnia : Balkans: It could lead to Serb withdrawal from some areas, officials say. Proposed U.N. protection is cited.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The United States and France on Monday defended a U.S.-European plan to establish safe areas for the embattled Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina, arguing that the initiative could lead to a withdrawal of Serbian forces from some of the territory they have conquered.

"This is not the final end of this policy," Secretary of State Warren Christopher told reporters, responding to critics who charge that the plan allows rebel Bosnian Serbs to keep all of the land they have seized.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe accused the plan's critics of ignoring important parts of the agreement and said the presence of a U.N. protection force in the safe areas would increase pressure on the Serbs to withdraw.

"Our goal is the withdrawal of the Serb troops in Bosnia from the territories that they have occupied by force," Juppe asserted.

In other developments Monday:

* Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, one of the architects of the plan, called on Bosnia's Muslim leadership to reverse its public rejection of it and said that Bosnia's Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, had originally backed the idea.

* Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's personal envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, arrived in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, to promote the plan, declaring: "We are very content with that document. We think it does correspond in many respects to our idea of extinguishing the war in Bosnia."

* But Jose Maria Mendiluce, the envoy in Bosnia of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the plan could confine Muslims to isolated ghettos, plagued by terror and dependent on diminishing world charity. "This risks being a humanitarian catastrophe," he said.

* The 51 Muslim countries in the United Nations issued a joint statement charging that the plan "appears to accept the status quo imposed by the use of force and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia."

Kozyrev on Monday arrived back in Moscow from Washington, where he had joined the United States, Britain, France and Spain in forging the new plan.

"We will not accept the Bosnian Serbs' 'no'; neither will we agree to a 'no' from the Bosnian Muslims to this new concept," Kozyrev said. To accept a veto of the plan by any of Bosnia's warring factions would mean saying " 'no' to any reasonable political solution," he added.

A day earlier, Izetbegovic had rejected the plan as "totally unacceptable." It would, he said, reward aggression by Bosnian Serbs and, by expanding U.N.-protected safety zones for civilians, effectively put his people on "reservations."

But Kozyrev said that when he met last week with Izetbegovic in Split, Croatia, the Bosnian president was singing a different tune.

"I personally know that he approved our proposals, whatever he may have said Sunday," Kozyrev said.

The Russian foreign minister conceded that the international community is in for a long ordeal before warfare can be ended in the Balkans.

Asked if he sees "light at the end of the tunnel," Kozyrev replied: "The light is visible. But not so much at the end of a tunnel. Rather, a labyrinth lies before us."

Here in Washington, Juppe said, "It is wrong (for Izetbegovic) to say that these safe areas are . . . reservations."

Juppe said France has drafted a new mandate for U.N. forces in Bosnia that will make them "protagonists" in the conflict rather than mere bystanders.

He said that U.N. peacekeepers would not use force to try to get Bosnian Serbs to withdraw from territory they have conquered but argued that their presence, along with economic sanctions and other measures, would gradually create "pressure" for the Serbs to leave.

Officials in Washington said that many of the details of the safe areas, including the size and power of the U.N. forces and the rules of engagement governing their actions, are still being negotiated among the major powers.

Juppe said U.N. forces in Bosnia would probably increase by only about 4,000 troops--from today's 9,000 to about 13,000--once safe areas were established around the capital of Sarajevo and other Muslim-populated cities.

The United States will not send ground troops but has pledged to offer air and naval power.

The new plan was hailed by the Serbs, but angry criticism of it continued, including the stinging statement of the 51 Islamic nations that belong to the United Nations. Observers noted that two of the countries that signed the statement, Pakistan and Morocco, hold seats on the Security Council.

Further, Venezuelan Ambassador Diego Arria and representatives of smaller countries on the council have proposed that the United Nations send a force to Bosnia large enough to push the Serbs back--larger than the force of 13,000 suggested by Juppe. U.N. officials say that the present force is barely big enough to keep up the flow of humanitarian supplies and cannot be spared for protecting safe areas.

In addition to considering a resolution setting up safe areas, the Security Council is moving toward swift passage of a resolution establishing an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute officials for "ethnic cleansing" and other abuses of the population in what used to be Yugoslavia.

A third resolution, setting up a force to monitor compliance with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's pledge to halt the flow of oil and arms to rebel Serbs in Bosnia, may be delayed because Milosevic has rejected as a violation of Serbian sovereignty the notion of posting such observers on Serbian soil.

McManus reported from Washington and Dahlburg reported from Moscow. Times staff writer Stanley Meisler, at the United Nations, contributed to this report.

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