Tough words for Belgrade: Owen takes over as head of EC peace effort

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The Independent Online
THE LONDON conference on Yugoslavia, the biggest set of talks yet on the Balkan conflict, yesterday adopted a package of proposals which included much tough language against Belgrade. But it was unclear whether this would bring a winding-down of the war.

Despite the upbeat tone of closing declarations issued last night by Britain, the host country, it was not clear whether all the worthy measures will have any effect on the still-escalating war in Bosnia.

However, leading participants in the meeting felt last night that it had exceeded pessimistic initial expectations. A momentum had been created, which they were keen to maintain at the new round of peace talks in Geneva, brought forward to open next week.

Measures agreed yesterday included the stationing of United Nations monitors on the Serb- Bosnian border, a move which was accepted by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader, as well as by the other parties at the conference, chaired by John Major and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General.

Last night Lord Owen, the former Foreign Secretary, was named by Mr Major to succeed Lord Carrington as head of the European Community's Yugoslavia peace effort, despite concern over his recent strong advocacy of military intervention and implicit criticism of the Serbs.

Earlier, the two dozen nations gathered in London alongside the leaders of all the republics of the former Yugoslavia agreed on a toughening of sanctions against Belgrade with a possible ban on military flights over Bosnia.

An agreed 'Statement on Bosnia' called for the 'return of territory taken by force' - a clear reference to the Serbian gains. 'Ethnic cleansing' (expulsion of communities from their homes) was called 'inhuman and illegal'.

There was talk of creating 'just and adequate arrangements' for those expelled from their homes. All sides were urged 'immediately and without preconditions' to resume negotiations on future constitutional arrangements for Bosnia. A political settlement was to include 'a full and permanent cessation of hostilities'.

A meeting of the Western European Union - in effect, the defence arm of the European Community - is to be held today. It is expected to authorise the sending of further European troops to join the peace-keeping forces in Bosnia, backing up the UN decision to authorise the use of military force to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. The UN peace- keeping force in Bosnia is to be substantially increased.

But, despite the trumpeted new commitments, there was cold realism, too. In the words of the French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas: 'I'm not a fool. The main difficulty is to settle the problems on the ground.' A Bosnian official said: 'We shall see the reality. We have bitter experience.'

Senior UN officials at the conference categorically excluded the possibility that UN observers might be sent to the Albanian-

majority province of Kosovo. However, last night the acting US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, said that it had been agreed to send human rights monitors to Vojvodina, Kosovo and Sandjak - areas of Serbia with large populations of ethnic Hungarians, Albanians and Muslims.

A UN presence has been sought by Albanian leaders in Kosovo who fear a flare-up of violence in the province, which has previously seen the bloody suppression of unrest.

However, the question of the status of the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia, another source of potential instability, was in effect ignored.

Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President, sought to speak during yesterday's proceedings - which, like most of the conference, took place in closed session - but was prevented from doing so by the Prime Minister of the rump Yugoslavia, Milan Panic, who said that only he, Mr Panic, had the right to speak.

According to one Balkan-style conspiracy theory, this was a set- up to give the impression that Mr Panic - who talks constantly about peace, but is widely believed to have little clout - is able to call the shots with Mr Milosevic. But Mr Milosevic may have judged that it was not wise to quarrel publicly with Mr Panic, who has gained cautious praise for his unpredictable peace initiatives. Certainly, a Milosevic speech existed: presidential aides were working on it on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, said yesterday that '20 per cent' of Serb-held territory could be relinquished. He also promised a closure of the Serb-run detention camps in Bosnia as soon as possible, or 'within a week or two after we have found a solution'.

There was scepticism, however, as to whether these promises would be matched by reality.

Martin Bell's war, page 3

Further reports, page 8

(Photograph omitted)