Bosnia peace drive starts today

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The Independent Online
Britain and the US yesterday endorsed the United Nations' decision to hold off Nato air strikes against Bosnian Serbs around Gorazde. Britain said the threat had proved more effective than 'bombing for the sake of bombing'.

As Western policy shifted back from force to negotiations, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy, said Russia, the US, the EU and the UN had agreed to set up a 'joint contact group' to work towards a political solution.

British officials said the hope was for a four-month ceasefire in Bosnia, during which the group would discuss with the Serbs and Muslims how the future map of Bosnia would be drawn. That would involve a 'rollback' from positions occupied by the Serbs.

The Serbs continued to withdraw troops and weapons from around Gorazde. About 200 soldiers, including Britons, sent to reinforce the UN garrison, began to patrol the front lines. With the besieged town quiet, apart from occasional sniper fire, UN aid workers began distributing food and organising the evacuation of the wounded.

Meetings in London between the Prime Minister and the foreign ministers of France and the US and Mr Churkin all stressed the need for a return to negotiations.

Mr Churkin said the new contact group would hold its first meeting today, adding: 'I think the next week or two are going to be very intensive.' He had been working to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to agree to a 'comprehensive cessation of hostilities'.

In a marked endorsement of Nato policy, Mr Churkin told John Major that Moscow was satisfied with the level of consultation before the alliance's air strike ultimatum. The Serbs have been ordered to withdraw their weapons outside a 20km exclusion zone by midnight tonight.

'Nato provided the key,' a British official said of the alliance's strike plan agreed last Friday, and the refusal on Saturday by the UN representative in former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, to give Nato permission to launch an attack. 'It was up to the UN to turn it. There is no doubt that Nato were prepared to launch air strikes.

'We think the judgement reached by Akashi was the right one. It was a question of whether the situation in Gorazde was improving, and it is improving. As long as that is the case, there is no need for air strikes.'

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said the Serbs were 'trying to comply' with the deadline and it was 'prudent . . . to give them an opportunity to complete the withdrawal'.

Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, said: 'We must be strong-willed, I would even say stubborn, to get a diplomatic process that works.'

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons yesterday: 'Air strikes are not an end to themselves. We hope that they will not be


But he added: 'If in the judgement of Nato and the UN they are necessary then no one should doubt that they will be undertaken.'

Inside Parliament, page 8

Serbs pull back, page 9

Saving Bosnia, page 17