Britain to host Bosnia talks if ceasefire holds

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Britain is to host a Peace Implementation Conference on Bosnia if the ceasefire due in Sarajevo last night leads to successful negotiations between Serbs, Muslims and Croats.

Continued fighting and problems in the reconnection of gas, electricity and water to the Bosnian capital delayed the final ceasefire announcement.

But the British, American and French governments are now so committed to the success of the peace talks that a schedule for negotiations, giving each nation a role, has been agreed.

President Bill Clinton, the driving force behind the peace initiative, wants the warring parties to meet in a secret location, somewhere in the northwest United States for a round of so-called "proximity talks."

If they achieve agreement, the scene will move to London, where the British Government will oversee a conference to discuss the task of the new Peace Implementation Force. British soldiers are expected to join around 25,000 US troops sent to Bosnia to enforce the peace, employing far tougher rules of engagement as they take over from United Nations forces.

Announcing the meeting yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, told the Conservative Party conference that the meeting would settle the role, size and duration of the force. It would also consider future humanitarian needs, assess reconstruction plans and organise future elections.

"The people of Bosnia will need help in implementing the peace agreement and assistance to reconstruct their countries," Mr Rifkind said. The final seal will be set on a treaty to end the war at a full-scale international conference in Paris.

These grand schemes, however, remain so tenuous that no date can yet be set for the London conference, although the Foreign Office expects that it could take place at the end of November.

The United Nations appears to have been cut out of the negotiations and its unhappy role in the Balkans is clearly winding down. Yesterday the UN announced that its civilian head of operations in Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, would leave his post in three weeks time. Mr Akashi drew bitter criticism among US officials and military leaders, who disliked his unwillingness to authorise air action against the Bosnian Serbs.

Light in Sarajevo, page 12