Serbia offered sanctions trade-off

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IN AN ATTEMPT to kick-start Bosnian peace negotiations, the European Union yesterday offered to suspend some sanctions against Serbia if it makes new territorial concessions. However, it also threatened the use of force if humanitarian aid is blocked, matching the new carrot with a stick.

All the parties to the conflict, the United States, Russia and the EU, are invited by the foreign ministers, gathered in Luxembourg yesterday, to meet in Geneva on Monday to get talks under way again.

The EU ministers, concerned about the supply of humanitarian aid this winter, said they would seek agreements with local militia commanders to allow aid to pass. If those agreements were breached, force could be used, the ministers said.

In practice, however, the commitment goes little further than the existing mandate of the United Nations forces in Bosnia already allows, and British caution on the idea remains. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said: 'The only way in which we can get aid through is with local agreements with the militia commanders. It might be possible to suspend part of the sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro if they make territorial concessions over and above what they have so far offered.'

With winter approaching, the EU is concerned to get some momentum back into the peace negotiations to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Britain is also saying publicly that it may not be able to keep its peace-keeping forces in Bosnia indefinitely.

Monday's meeting is seen as the precursor to a revival of the abortive London conference negotiations. It will be attended by Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, co- presidents of the peace negotiations.

The suspension of some sanctions would be conditional on new commitments from the Serbs to withdraw from territory they now control, said the ministers. Mr Hurd said that earlier commitments made in negotiations on HMS Invincible were not sufficient, but would not go into details of what was wanted, saying that was up to the negotiators in Geneva.

However, a complete suspension, or lifting, of sanctions, and economic aid, would depend on a complete peace deal, said ministers. That would include settlements in Krajina, Sanjak, Vojvodina and Kosovo. The EU also said in a communique that it could be ready to assist the reconstruction of the former Yugoslav republics, including Serbia and Montenegro.

The US will be fully involved in the new discussions. The proposal is a trimmed version of an earlier Franco-German idea offering the lifting of sanctions, and is thus more acceptable to Washington, said Mr Hurd, who has spoken to Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State.

Some tensions on the Bosnian issue remain. Asked about American doubts, Mr Hurd said sharply: 'What is being done on the ground is being done by Europeans.'

War blocks winter supplies, page 10

(Photograph omitted)