After considerable US pressure in three days of talks in Washington, Bosnian Muslims and Croats were close to an agreement last night that would end their 11-month war and establish a single Muslim-Croat political unit in alliance with Croatia.
Meanwhile, Russia said it would send 'observers' to Tuzla airport in Muslim-held north-eastern Bosnia to guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid to trapped civilians. Russia has deployed troops in the Sarajevo area, and Moscow's latest step represents an attempt to maximise its influence in Bosnia so that the Serbs are assured a reasonable settlement when the war comes to an end.
A Bosnian source close to the Washington talks said the Americans had persuaded the Croats to drop their ambition of partitioning Bosnia with the Serbs. 'The danger to the American plan is if the Muslims and Croats decide that, rather than settling for peace, they choose to keep on fighting to try to push the Serbs back to Serbia.'
There was growing evidence yesterday that this threat - the prospect of a reforged Croat-Muslim alliance - prompted the Bosnian Serbs to launch Monday's ill-fated bombing raids on Muslim armaments factories.
At the heart of the Serbian fears is the revitalised arms and munitions industry based in central Bosnia around the Bugojno, Vitez and Novi Travnik. Of particular concern is the Bratstvo or 'Brotherhood' armaments factory in Novi Travnik, which Serbian aircraft attacked on Monday before US F-16s shot four of them down. The United Nations confirmed that the planes also bombed the ammunition compound at Bugojno.
Neither the Bosnian Serbs nor Serbia proper has admitted responsibility for the raid. But the UN said its military observers at the main Bosnian Serb air base at Banja Luka were confined to quarters during the bombing and Nato's response.
Russia's initiative on Tuzla was announced after talks in Moscow between the Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic. It seemed to take President Bill Clinton, John Major and UN commanders by surprise, and drew a hostile response from Bosnia's Muslim-led government.
Britain and the US are to send 12 reconstruction experts to Sarajevo, President Clinton and Mr Major said yesterday in Washington. The Prime Minister said 'the circumstances that exist within Sarajevo are very serious; the utilities are not working - the electricity, the water - so we have agreed to send a joint planning mission to see what has to be done.'
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