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Belgrade Cuts Off Key Rebel Link : Bosnia: Serb strongman Milosevic shuts down TV broadcasts one day after criticism by renegade leader Karadzic. Move strengthens bid to isolate faction and force acceptance of peace plan.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic on Sunday cut the television link used by his renegade Bosnian Serb proxies to stoke war fever, strengthening his position in a Serb-versus-Serb power struggle in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The relay of broadcasts from Pale, the Bosnian Serb stronghold 10 miles east of Sarajevo, was stopped a day after rebel leader Radovan Karadzic indirectly criticized Milosevic in interviews seen by Bosnian Serb viewers.

“The TV connection was cut today,” U.N. Protection Force spokesman Michael Williams reported from mission headquarters here. “It doesn’t affect our operations, but it would seem to be another psychological blow to the Bosnian Serb people.”

Milosevic announced last week that he was breaking all political and economic ties with the Karadzic regime for its refusal to endorse a U.S.-European peace plan that would give Serbs internationally recognized rule over almost half of Bosnia.

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The current Pale leadership refuses that formula because it would require Bosnian Serbs to give up about one-third of the 70% of Bosnia they now hold and would hinder their objective of annexing conquered territory to Milosevic’s republic to form a Greater Serbia.

Trucks carrying munitions, fuel and other supplies to the rebels have been stopped at the Yugoslav border with Serb-held eastern Bosnia since Thursday, and Belgrade severed telephone links with the rebels a day later to underscore its umbrage over their refusal to compromise in the name of peace.

Karadzic complained in television footage aired Saturday that Belgrade’s actions had encouraged the Muslim-led Bosnian government to step up offensives that have cut into Serbian territorial war spoils. He also suggested that a North Atlantic Treaty Organization air strike Friday near Sarajevo was a consequence of Milosevic having abandoned the nationalist cause.

By interrupting the flow of televised propaganda from Pale to the Bosnian Serb people, Western diplomats say, Milosevic is in position to monopolize the most influential instrument for affecting public opinion among the war-weary Bosnian Serbs.

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If Milosevic triumphs in his bid for the hearts and minds of the Bosnian Serb people with telegenic appeals for them to dump Karadzic and endorse the peace plan, the isolated rebel population could end up with an even more radical nationalist as its leader.

The Milosevic crackdown may widen a longstanding rift between the Pale leadership and radical proponents of Serbian unity in the nationalist hotbed of Banja Luka, in northern Bosnia.

Observers see Karadzic as the likely fall guy for the holdout policy currently espoused by the Bosnian Serb leadership; Belgrade media controlled by Milosevic have been at work for weeks on a negative campaign against the portly rebel leader.

It remains unclear which of several ultranationalist lieutenants in the Bosnian Serb hierarchy might be maneuvered into Karadzic’s self-styled presidency. But all of the potential candidates are ardent believers in Milosevic’s drive to expand Serbian territory to unite all Serbs in the Balkans in one state.

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Ironically, the Serbian president blamed for stirring up the deadly Balkan conflict is getting crucial backing from the international community in his effort to oust Karadzic and elicit rebel acceptance of the peace plan drafted by the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

Diplomats from all five countries have praised Milosevic’s recent moves to secure his proxies’ agreement to the peace plan, and Russia has succeeded in convincing the Western powers that the Serbian president should be rewarded with immediate relief from U.N. economic sanctions if he manages to compel the Bosnian Serbs to sign.

Karadzic has set an Aug. 27-28 referendum on the peace plan following three rejections by his rogue government on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs.

With control over the airwaves and the incentive of sanctions relief for his own economically devastated country, Milosevic could wear down popular resistance to the compromises in the plan.

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“Our view is that the referendum is still a helluva way off,” U.N. spokesman Williams said when asked if Belgrade cut the TV link in hopes of getting Bosnian Serbs to favor the peace plan.

Diplomats say Milosevic, a master of political maneuvering, can be expected to appeal to Bosnian Serbs publicly to accept the partition formula that gives them 49% of Bosnia while privately assuring the hard-liners in the rebel leadership that no outside military force has any interest in enforcing the agreement.


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