Serbs offered economic carrot to revive talks

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FRANCE and Germany tried to revive the stalled peace process in the former Yugoslavia yesterday by offering to drop sanctions against Serbia if Belgrade showed greater flexibility on the division of Bosnia.

The idea is to force the parties involved back to the negotiating table by emphasising the advantages of peace. Europe has been hardening its attitude to Serbia; the logic of the Franco-German suggestion is that since applying a stick has had little effect, offering a carrot might make the difference.

The new thinking, which European Union foreign ministers began discussing yesterday, is in keeping with Lord Owen's insistence that peace in Bosnia will be achieved only if there is a solution to the problems of the whole region. Lord Owen submitted a fresh analysis yesterday and it was decided that the ministers would have a brain-storming session at the end of this month.

The change outlined in a joint Franco-German letter yesterday is one of tone rather than substance. Since it was the United Nations Security Council that applied sanctions to Serbia, alone, the EU does not have the power to lift them.

The letter says some form of positive encouragement is worth trying if it breaks the diplomatic logjam. 'The Serbians will never show the territorial flexibility that is vital (to a settlement) unless it is made clear to them that the UN sanctions will be lifted gradually in exchange for real progress in the application of the Bosnian peace plan. We must assure them that the UN sanctions will be lifted if they apply an agreed peace package in Bosnia and a modus vivendi in the Croat territories,' it says.

The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said such an emphasis would fit in with the latest efforts to reopen peace talks in the context of an overall political solution. But he emphasised that the lifting of sanctions had always been linked to political progress.

There is no question of a direct bribe such as relating the sanctions issue to the opening of guaranteed 'safe' corridors for humanitarian aid deliveries into Bosnia.

The successful delivery of humanitarian aid remains ministers' priority, all the more so now that it has been designated the first of only four very modest areas for joint foreign policy action under the Maastricht treaty. Britain and France, with significant forces on the ground, are still pressing for other countries to send troops to boost the strength of the UN Protection Force presence and for more money, especially from Islamic states.

Lord Owen's plea for Tuzla airport to be reopened has everyone's support, but as ever the problem is how to secure on the ground decisions taken around a conference table. There is still little appetite for ground forces to protect aid convoys and although Nato is happy to provide air support, it has yet to be asked to do so.

Serbs seize UN passengers, page 12