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Bosnia's Muslims to attend talks on dividing up state

Bosnia's Muslim-led collective leadership agreed Tuesday to attend talks on a Serb-Croat proposal to divide the country into three ethnic zones, a plan the Muslims dislike but may have to accept.

Yugoslav news media reported that the leaders of Bosnia's Serbs and Croats already have adopted boundaries for the zones, posing a dilemma for the government of whether to accept the plan or stagger along in a losing war.

International mediators _ David Owen for the European Community and Thorvald Stoltenberg for the United Nations _ planned to meet here today with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and representatives of Bosnia's warring factions to discuss the partition plan.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim, apparently planned to boycott the summit on the plan, which he opposes.

He was expected to stay in his besieged capital, Sarajevo, after a week of failed attempts to persuade European governments to exempt his outgunned forces from an international arms embargo on all parties in former Yugoslavia.

But seven members of Bosnia's 10-member, multi-ethnic collective presidency headed to Geneva after a heated session in the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Officials familiar with the Zagreb talks _ only the second gathering of the collective leadership during Bosnia's 15-month war _ said Izetbegovic was pushed aside to allow the collective presidency to "avoid extremes."

But Izetbegovic said the presidency members had gone to Geneva with his approval, and only to listen.

"They have no mandate for negotiations or signing," he said.

"We are not going to Geneva to betray Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Fikret Abdic, a Muslim member of the presidency. "We should put all the ideas on the table and talk openly and freely about them," he said in a radio interview. "Our reality is very tough, but we have to face it."

Abdic has criticized Izetbegovic for being intransigent and for doing too little to stop the fighting.

In Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav federal capital, Serbian news media said Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his Bosnian Croat counterpart Mate Boban agreed Sunday on details of Bosnia's division into three sovereign ethnic states.

The newspaper Vecernje Novosti quoted Karadzic as saying the plan to be presented in Geneva would be "the last chance for Izetbegovic to save at least a part of his people."

Negotiator emerges

GENEVA _ A wheeler-dealer who is rumored to have sold arms to all sides in Bosnia's war has emerged as the man who may broker its peace.

Fikret Abdic, 54, masterminded the shunting aside of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic on Tuesday. He has been singled out by both Serb and Croat leaders as a Muslim they can deal with.

Unlike Izetbegovic, Abdic has not ruled out a Serb-Croat proposal to carve up Bosnia. He has said Izetbegovic was not authorized to refuse such a deal.

"We must face the reality of what we can expect from the world community and that we must agree with the Croats and the Serbs," said Abdic, a member of Bosnia's collective presidency.

The rotund, silver-haired Abdic is from the Bihac region in northwest Bosnia. The mountainous Muslim enclave is encircled by Serbs and Croats but has managed to escape much of the bloodshed.

Abdic is rumored to have sold arms to all three parties in Bosnia's 15-month war, bringing them in to an airstrip in the region.

He was jailed in 1987-89 by the Communist rulers of former Yugoslavia on charges of masterminding huge financial deals using his food processing company.

The wealth he brought to Bihac has ensured his popularity among locals.

Dividing Bosnia

This map, based on a map published in the Zagreb weekly newspaper Danas, shows how Bosnia would be divided among the Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The plan was devised by Serbs and Croats. No official map will be issued until negotiations in Geneva that begin today are concluded. Under the plan, Serbs and Croats would be allowed to hold plebiscites on uniting with their ethnic brethren in Serbia and Croatia.