Muslims facing isolation as Serb-Croat pact nears

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A PACT between Croatia and Serbia to end hostilities and divide the spoils in Bosnia looks close, after the President of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Cosic, yesterday called on rebel Serbs in Croatia to solve their problems in direct talks with the Croatian government.

An unconditional ceasefire proposal announced between Serbian and Croatian forces in Bosnia appeared to take effect, suggesting that the main elements for a deal are in place, and that Bosnia's Muslims have been left isolated.

Meanwhile in New York yesterday, the UN Security Council banned all military flights over Bosnia, hoping to bolster the safety of humanitarian flights to the country at a time when relief supplies are desperately needed.

If the flight ban is violated, the council warned that it would consider using force. The resolution provides for UN officials to monitor five airfields in Serbian areas of Bosnia to ensure that the Bosnian Serbs' 50 military aircraft are not flown on missions. Diplomats said that Awacs or other surveillance aircraft may also be flown to ensure that only humanitarian flights take to the air. The Ministry of Defence said last night that the RAF is to resume aid flights to Sarajevo this weekend.

In Sarajevo, the main daily newspaper ran a front-page editorial emphasising a widespread belief in the Bosnian capital that the Serbs and Croats had done a deal at the Muslims' expense. Bosnians argued that the Croats agreed to withdraw from Bosanski Brod, suddenly seized by Serb forces last week, in return for the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from the strategic peninsula of Prevlaka.

Bogdan Subotic, self-proclaimed 'defence minister' of the Bosnian Serbs, announced: 'The Muslims' side have yet to understand our truce.'

In an interview with the BBC, President Cosic heralded a dramatic about-turn in Serbian policy, and seemed to wash his hands of the project of joining up Serbian-held territory in Croatia with Serbia proper - the main obstacle to a Serbo-Croatian accord.

Amid reports that Serbian forces in northern Bosnia were on the point of crushing another pocket of Muslim resistance, at Gradacac, Mr Cosic said Croatia's embattled Serbs should hold direct talks with the Croatian authorities. He said that the leaders of Croatia and the rump Yugoslavia had agreed in Geneva during recent talks to settle their joint interests in Bosnia. The message was unmistakable: that Croatia and Serbia have come to an agreement at the expense of the Bosnian Muslims over setting up ethnic-based 'cantons' in Bosnia, which will in effect carve up Bosnia into three statelets and preserve only the fiction of a united republic.

A Serb-Croat pact threatens to leave in the lurch two million Bosnian Muslims. They are faced with the prospect of being herded into a few tiny pockets of territory.