Bosnian Serbs Defy Milosevic, Denounce Plan

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Bosnian Serb leaders denounced an international peace plan in their harshest terms yet Wednesday, brazenly defying their patron President Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and setting the stage for more warfare.

As a self-styled Bosnian Serb assembly gathered, almost certainly to rebuff the plan for a third time, U.N. officials reported an ominous surge in fighting in northern and northeastern Bosnia and more sniper fire in Sarajevo.

A statement sternly denouncing the peace plan was issued by SRNA, the Bosnian Serb news agency, from the Serb stronghold of Pale just east of besieged Sarajevo.

It said Bosnian Serb leaders had again deemed the plan unacceptable, saying it had been "deliberately compiled in such a way as to be unacceptable for the Serb side."

The statement reiterated previous rejections of the proposal in language laced with bluster and fury.

"Acceptance of such a thing would represent a masochistic crime at which the devil would laugh," the statement said.

It said pressure being brought to endorse the plan was an attempt to get Serbs "to sign their own death warrant."

The measure, proposed by the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, requires the Serbs to give up about one-third of the territory they have occupied in Bosnia, leaving them with 49 percent of the country.

A federation of Bosnian Moslems and Croats, which has agreed to the deal, would get the remainder.

The 81-member Bosnian Serb assembly, which twice has refused o accept the plan, decided to take it up again only after heavy pressure from Serbia and Russia, a traditional Serbian ally.

The assembly was expected to put the matter to a referendum to Serb voters within Bosnia -- a proposal already dismissed by leaders in Serbia as a ruse to buy time.

Bosnia's minority Serbs launched the war in April 1992 when they rebelled against a Moslem-Croat vote to secede from Yugoslavia. An estimated 200,000 people have been killed.

The Bosnian Serbs' latest denunciation coincided with an increase in fighting in troublespots across Bosnia.

U.N. spokesman Major Rob Annink reported some of the heaviest fighting since March in the northern and northeast, where Moslem-led government forces have been on the offensive.

Serbs appeared to be retaliating by shelling government-held towns. Annink said an undetermined number of civilians were injured Wednesday when shells hit the center of Tuzla, a major government stronghold 80 kilometers northeast of Sarajevo.

In Sarajevo, U.N. monitors reported more than 700 cease-fire violations Tuesday, the most since a local truce took effect last February.