Deal brings new hope of Bosnia peace

Warring factions accept one state
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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SHERIDAN

Geneva

The United States claimed a breakthrough in Yugoslav peace talks yesterday after the warring sides agreed to divide Bosnia between a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat alliance, co-existing within one state.

The US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, said Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs now accepted as a basic principle Bosnia's existence as an independent, internationally recognised country.

But Mr Holbrooke conceded that "there is a difference between a paper peace and an implemented peace". Speaking after a day of negotiations in Geneva, he said "this statement does not constitute the end of the tragedy in the Balkans - far from it".

He also maintained that the agreement in principle to divide Bosnia between the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation did not amount to partition. "None of this constitutes two countries," he said.

It was unclear what, if any, legal status was attached to yesterday's declaration of principles in Geneva, which was agreed to by the foreign ministers of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. Senior British officials at the talks insisted that it amounted to more than a lowest common denominator. But it failed to achieve either mutual diplomatic recognition between the successor states in the former Yugoslavia or an agreement to cease hostilities.

The negotiators also failed to reach any settlement between Serbia and Croatia on the dangerous issue of Eastern Slavonia, a border area where the two countries could go to war.

British officials said the Western allies now wanted to "keep up the momentum" while accepting that detailed and tough negotiations lay ahead. Some diplomats believe there could be a wider international peace conference within a few weeks.

Mr Holbrooke said the continued Nato bombing raids on Bosnian Serb targets yesterday did not affect the talks - the first formal peace negotiations between Serbs, Croats and Muslims for more than a year. There was, however, no confirmation that the Bosnian Serb military leader, General Ratko Mladic, would endorse the line taken by the Serbian delegation in Geneva.

Under the "agreed basic principles" announced by Mr Holbrooke, the Bosnian Serbs for the first time conceded that they would hold only 49 per cent of Bosnian territory, with 51 per cent going to the Muslim-Croat federation.

The Bosnian government has reluctantly accepted that the Serbs could establish a "parallel special relationship" with Belgrade to match its own federation with Croatia. The Muslim-dominated Sarajevo leadership also had to accept the existence of the "Republica Srpska", as the Serbs style their territory in Bosnia.

Further bargaining will now go on, led by the US envoy with the participation of Britain, France, Russia and Germany, the so-called Contact Group of countries. The European Union envoy Carl Bildt will also take part. But the UN, which has been criticised by all sides in the conflict, was absent from the meeting yesterday. Its exclusion marked the beginning of the end of the present UN mission in the former Yugoslavia.

Mr Holbrooke revealed that secret talks were in progress on the status of Sarajevo, letting slip that the allies agreed on "an undivided Sarajevo with the exception of one of the areas".

The Muslim-dominated Bosnian government is bound to be unhappy with the implicit suggestion that Sarajevo may be divided. It will also take little comfort from Mr Holbrooke's assertion that no US troops would be committed to the area unless there was a firm peace settlement.

Nato jets launched more air strikes on Bosnian Serb military targets, punishment for Gen Mladic's refusal to withdraw heavy weapons from around the city. The planes are still focusing attacks on weapons dumps and communications links.

Full agreement, page 10

Main points of

the agreement

nBosnia to continue with its present borders

nBosnia to consist of two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina and Republica Srpska

nThe 51:49 share-out of land, previously refused by the Bosnian Serbs, is accepted as the basis for a settlement

nBoth entities will have the right to establish special relationships with neighbouring countries

nBoth entities will hold elections; respect human rights; and allow freedom of movement

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