'I do not expect much of the negotiations in Geneva,' said Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian President. Referring to his Bosnian Serb enemies, he added: 'We will not negotiate if the aggressor stands by his recent demands. We are fighting against criminals and not against the people. We do not give up our goal, and that is a free and whole Bosnia-Herzegovina.'
Serbian forces overran 70 per cent of Bosnia last April and May but have suffered reverses in the past four weeks as the Muslims' desperate defence has turned into counter-attack. Western military sources in Sarajevo said that Bosnian government forces had made five inroads into a land corridor across northern Bosnia near the town of Brcko that is vital for the supply of weapons from Serbia to Bosnian Serb-held territory. The Muslims have also recaptured parts of eastern Bosnia and are gathering forces on Mount Igman, outside Sarajevo, for an offensive to break the Serbian siege of the city.
A weekly intelligence report prepared by the UN protection force in Bosnia said the Muslims' growing military strength had made them less interested in a peace settlement at Geneva. 'They are convinced that military intervention is inevitable and are gaining confidence in their own capabilities with or without outside military help. The (Bosnian) presidency and their military leaders are not willing to end the conflict under current conditions.'
That view was underlined in a French radio interview yesterday by General Philippe Morillon, commander of UN forces in Bosnia: 'I do not rule out the risk of some provocations in the next few hours as a number of activists are totally opposed to any negotiations.'
Among those heading for Geneva last night were political and military leaders of Bosnia's government, the Croats and the Serbs. The peace talks are sponsored jointly by the UN and the European Community. If they fail to break the deadlock over a future constitutional settlement for Bosnia, the UN Security Council is expected to pass a Western-backed resolution authorising force to keep Serbian aircraft grounded in the republic.
The United States, worried that Islamic countries are poised to give military aid to the Bosnian Muslims, is pressing for swift passage of the resolution to allow Western attacks on Serbian air bases, planes and helicopters. Turkey, Syria, Pakistan and other Islamic states are to meet in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, on 11 January to discuss how to help Bosnia's Muslims.
In an attempt to head off attacks on his aircraft, Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, said he had ordered all Serbian planes in Bosnia except helicopters grounded on Thursday, to avoid violating the no-fly zone. He wanted to go on using helicopters to lift wounded troops from battlefields.
In a sign that Britain was accepting the need to punish the Serbs, John Major said yesterday that the West was becoming increasingly impatient with the Bosnian conflict. 'I don't believe we should push that impatience too far,' he said on BBC radio's The World At One, giving a veiled threat of impending military action.
He added that while the West was seeking a political solution and he was concerned to maintain the humanitarian effort in Bosnia, it was 'absolutely vital' to stop hostilities spreading to Kosovo, the Serbian province with an Albanian majority, and the republic of Macedonia. 'One of the main concerns we have is ensuring not just that we stop the present conflict but that we prevent a wider conflict erupting.'
Asked if that meant ground forces might be sent, the Prime Minister said: 'I don't think it is wise for us to make that sort of remark at the moment. Nobody has contemplated ground troops in the way you suggest.' However, in an apparent reference to air strikes against the Serbs, he added: 'There are other options that may need to be contemplated at some stage, but I don't think it is right for us to talk about those.'
The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, sent a new year message to British diplomats that also hinted at tougher action in the Balkans. 'We have . . . to show the public that a new world order is only conceivable at a cost and with casualties far greater than public opinion would now contemplate,' he said. 'Armchair lamentation is worse than useless, unless we are prepared for the sacrifices needed to make peace in countries of which hitherto we have known little or nothing.'