Major flies in on peace mission to Sarajevo: Deal to let civilians through siege lines bolsters General Rose's truce

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JOHN MAJOR flew into the coastal town of Split last night on the way to Sarajevo. He intends his visit to reinforce the leading role Britain is taking in UN efforts to spread the peace in Bosnia.

The visit, the first to the capital by a European leader since President Francois Mitterand's in June 1992, is designed to set the seal on the success of Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the British commander of UN forces, in securing a truce in Sarajevo.

The city took a small step along the road to normal life yesterday, when Bosnian Serbs and government leaders signed an agreement granting limited civilian movement across the siege lines.

The Prime Minister is seeking to impress on his allies that the 'creeping peace' agreements in Bosnia could lead to the overall settlement the UN has been seeking. Mr Major, who will be briefed by General Rose today, is expected to use his on-the-spot assessment to increase pressure on other UN members to send more troops. The latest reinforcement - including 900 British troops - is still only about half the 10,600 the UN has been calling for.

It was disclosed yesterday that 60 SAS troops had been deployed by General Rose to provide detailed intelligence on Serbian front-line movements as part of the UN effort to broker peace deals with the Serbs. There were reports yesterday that some of the special forces had been spotted in the beseiged town of Maglaj in northern Bosnia.

Defence sources have confirmed that General Rose, a former SAS officer, requested the SAS shortly after taking command. 'He was given permission immediately and had them almost within 24 hours.'

Mr Major is also expected to announce today further help for the joint US-UK civil mission to aid reconstruction of Sarajevo, which he agreed with President Bill Clinton in Washington this month.

And in Sarajevo yesterday Hasan Muratovic, a Bosnian minister, and Momcilo Krajisnik, president of the Bosnian Serb parliament, shook hands on a deal that will 'progressively reintroduce full freedom of movement for the civilian population and humanitarian traffic to, from and within Sarajevo'.

The Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity spanning the Miljacka river between the Serb-held suburb of Grbavica and the government-controlled city is to open at 9am on Wednesday to pedestrian and motor traffic, while two roads within the city and a third route out will open to civilian convoys.

However, the siege is not over yet. The agreement does not cover commercial traffic, and anyone wishing to leave the city must apply for permission from the opposing side through the UN, 24 hours ahead of time, and must travel in convoys escorted by UN troops.

But it is a significant advance for Sarajevo, where traffic lights are back in action, while shops and cafes open for business. Yesterday, in two UN armoured vehicles, the Sarajevo football team returned from a year in exile to take on UN troops in a match planned for Sunday.

However, the war continues to claim victims. A sniper from Grbavica fired on a tram yesterday, seriously injuring one passenger.

And at Maglaj the besieging Serbs again refused the UN permission to send a convoy into the area, although plans are under way to end the siege by negotiation or by force. Another convoy - including medical staff to arrange for possible evacuations - is due to leave for Maglaj on 22 March, following reports from UN in the enclave of a severe shortage of medical supplies.

A UN spokesman in Sarajevo, Major Simon MacDowall, also announced that three mortar-locating radars and four British artillery observers have been dispatched to Zepce, 11 miles south of Maglaj, prompting speculation that the UN is preparing to confront the Serbs, though that is unlikely until the extra British troops arrive.

Fears for refugees, page 12

Leading article, page 17