At the same time, as the exodus from Yugoslavia was reaching the point of disaster, Austria and Italy agreed to take about 6,000 refugees from Bosnia who have been trapped in two trains on the border between Croatia and Slovenia. Croatia had begun deporting refugees which other countries refused to accept.
Leaders of Bosnia's three ethnic groups signed a ceasefire in London yesterday, although shells and gunfire continued to shake Sarajevo and other parts of the former Yugoslav republic.
The ceasefire, supposed to take effect at 6pm local time tomorrow, was agreed after three days of talks chaired by Lord Carrington, acting for the European Community. Mate Boban, a Croatian leader in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the truce would last for two weeks. He said the Croats, Serbs and Muslim Slavs had agreed to attend more talks on Bosnia's constitutional arrangements on
27 July in London.
The ceasefire calls for UN supervision of heavy weaponry in Bosnia and recognises the principle that refugees should be allowed to return to their homes. Mr Boban agreed the truce with the leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, and the Muslim Foreign Minister of Bosnia, Haris Silajdzic, but each man signed the document separately, indicating the suspicion dividing them.
In contrast to previous ceasefires in Croatia and Bosnia, most violated within hours, the latest truce may prove significant because the Serbs and Croats are close to achieving their war goals. The Serbs have established control over about 60 per cent of Bosnia, with the eastern town of Gorazde the only Muslim stronghold unconquered. They have driven hundreds of thousands of Muslims from their homes and set up an independent Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Croats have emulated that by creating a Croatian republic in western Herzegovina called Herzeg-Bosnia. Mr Boban and Mr Karadzic signed an accord in May that called for the carve-up of Bosnia between Croats and Serbs, and now they have achieved this they may consider it appropriate to stop fighting.
The 6,000 refugees held on trains yesterday on the border between Croatia and Slovenia had survived bombardment by Serbs and shooting by Croatian police. Austrian officials said that 4,000 were in a train at the Dubeva crossing, and 2,000 had been stuck at Savski Marof, on the same border, since late on Thursday.
Children were reported to be sleeping under carriages, men and women lying on floors or curled up in luggage racks, while others wandered around. Peter Quendler of Caritas, the Catholic charity, said one child had died of exhaustion and others were very ill.
Croatia insists it can no longer sustain its 360,000 Bosnian refugees, but other countries are reluctant to take them.
The announcement that Austria and Italy would take the 6,000 came after the Austrian Foreign Minister, Alois Mock, and his Italian counterpart, Vincenzo Scotti, met on the sidelines of a central European summit meeting in Vienna.
The two countries had initially refused to take the refugees. Austria is sheltering some 50,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia, while Italy has up to now had a policy of not letting them in.
Hungary has been relatively accommodating, but it has also reached the point of exhaustion and 200 Bosnian refugees were turned back yesterday.
Western countries have been slow to co-ordinate their action, and the humanitarian agencies are over-extended and underfunded. Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has convened a meeting in Geneva on 29 June on the crisis.
John Major yesterday appealed to world leaders to help to tackle the 'appalling' conditions the refugees were living in. The Prime Minister urged the European Community, Japan and the US to send ministers to the conference.
The UN is also working with other agencies to assist the flow of relief to 850,000 people trapped by fighting, including 380,000 in Sarajevo.
ZAGREB - Two French soldiers serving with the UN were reported killed by a landmine near the Adriatic port of Zadar, Reuter reports.
They are the first UN peace-keeping soldiers to have been reported killed in the former Yugoslavia.
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