Hours after Nato temporarily ended its aerial bombardment of the Bosnian Serbs yesterday, the US announced that Bosnia, Croatia and the rump Yugoslavia will start talks in Geneva late next week in search of a settlement to the three-year-old Balkan war.
Reporting the first real breakthrough in this week's shuttle diplomacy in the former Yugoslavia by the US special envoy on Bosnia, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, the State Department said the foreign ministers of the three countries would meet in Switzerland "to continue the quest for peace in the Balkans".
There were no further details, but officials welcomed the development as a potentially critical step in the peace process. It confirms the Bosnian Serbs will be represented not by Radovan Karadzic, leader of the self- styled Bosnian Serb republic, but by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, as he indicated in his meeting with Mr Holbrooke this week.
The Geneva talks, due to last a day, will have as their starting point the US-sponsored peace plan that calls for the effective division of Bosnia between the Bosnian-Croat federation, which would receive 51 per cent, and the Bosnian Serbs, who would get 49 per cent. Their peace plan's goal was to "develop basic principles for a settlement". Grudgingly accepted by the Muslim government in Sarajevo, the split has also been agreed to "as a starting point" by Mr Milosevic. The bargaining over the details will be arduous and bitter, and could yet break down.
But Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman, said the circumstances now were very different from previous peace efforts. "There's an impetus and a momentum towards peace," he said, noting that the Bosnian Serbs no longer believed they could secure total victory on the ground.
Much in the short term depends on Serbs using the halt in Nato bombing to withdraw weapons from near Sarajevo, as the West wants. Compliance could indicate a serious wish for a wider settlement.
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