Serbs and Muslims declare 24-hour ceasefire in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Muslims and rebel Serbs yesterday agreed to a 24-hour truce as a goodwill gesture while they consider whether to sign a permanent ceasefire across Bosnia.

A United Nations Protection Force spokesman said the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, confirmed he would order his troops to hold fire shortly after the Muslims proclaimed a day-long truce. He said the commitment by both sides was given by word of mouth. Earlier Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, ordered a 24-hour ceasefire from 7pm, acting on the advice of the UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, and the UN Security Council, with whom he had been in touch. Bosnian radio said the truce was intended 'to create conditions for military and political talks with the Bosnian Serb army'.

The US national security adviser, Anthony Lake, yesterday restated Washington's position that it was willing to send troops to help to enforce an agreement if a peace did take hold, and said the US would be ready to use Nato air power to protect UN forces expected to be deployed soon in the Muslim enclave of Gorazde.

The ceasefire announcement came as something of a surprise as both sides had failed even to attend a scheduled meeting between Muslim and Serb commanders. The discussions between the Muslim army chief, General Rasim Delic, and General Mladic had been due to open at Sarajevo airport at 10am local time. After talking with the commander of UN forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, General Delic said: 'There is nothing going on.'

UN officers suggested the atmosphere had been soured by continued clashes between the two forces in areas such as Gorazde in the east and Doboj in the north. According to UN officials, 67 people have been killed and 325 wounded in the course of a 10-day Serbian assault on Gorazde.

The announcement that talks on a total ceasefire were to take place had raised hopes that the local Muslim- Serb truce in the Sarajevo area could be extended across Bosnia. International mediators, led by US and Russian diplomats, have succeeded in negotiating ceasefires between Muslims and Croats in Bosnia, and between Serbian and Croatian forces in the Krajina region of Croatia.

However, at least two obstacles stand in the way of a ceasefire in Bosnia. General Mladic and other Serbian hawks seem unwilling for the moment to strike a deal, even if the Serbs are offered as much as half of Bosnia's territory.

The second problem is that the Bosnian Muslim leadership remains opposed to the Serbs retaining control of areas of northern and eastern Bosnia where Muslim communities have been terrorised and driven out.