Bosnian factions scuttle UN ceasefire plan

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA'S Muslim-led government yesterday ended its boycott of talks on a ceasefire in the former Yugoslav republic, but an agreement still seemed as far away as ever. The United Nations asked the Muslims and their Croat allies to sign a four-month truce with the Serbs, but neither side was satisfied with the proposal.

The Bosnian Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, and the Bosnian Croat leader, Kresimir Zubak, joined the talks in Geneva after hearing that armed Bosnian Serbs had finally left a UN-declared exclusion zone around the eastern Muslim town of Gorazde.

However, the Muslims and Croats did not hold a face-to-face meeting with their Serbian enemies, limiting themselves instead to a short discussion with the UN envoy, Yasushi Akashi.

Mr Akashi later met the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and presented his proposals for a truce that would require the separation of forces and removal of heavy weapons from conflict lines.

Mr Zubak made clear that the Muslim-Croat delegation would reject any ceasefire proposal that froze Serbian military gains in Bosnia. The Serbs control about 70 per cent of Bosnia.

The Muslims and Croats fear that a truce lasting four months would allow the Serbs to consolidate their control of this territory.

Bosnia's Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, went still further, saying that a just settlement meant keeping Bosnia united, not dividing it along national lines as envisaged by Western countries and Russia.

'Any idea of division, of partition, is a criminal idea in itself, because in my country people lived together, not only in the same city but on the same street, in the same building, in the same house and often even in the same bed,' he told Le Figaro.

'If the Serbs want to live separately and among themselves - within the sovereign state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of course - they can do it, but only in the areas where they were a majority before the conflict began,' he said.

The Bosnian Serbs want a ceasefire to be permanent, or to last at least six months, on the grounds that a shorter truce will enable the Muslims and Croats to regroup.

They suspect that their enemies, supplied with extra weapons from Croatia's Adriatic coast, now that the Muslim-Croat conflict has ended, have little interest in seeking a truce.

Aleksa Buha, the Foreign Minister of the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic, last week rejected a Western-Russian proposal that 51 per cent of Bosnia should go to the Muslim-Croat alliance and 49 per cent to the Serbs. He said peace talks should start on the basis that the Serbs receive 53.5 per cent. The Muslims and Croats have proposed 58 per cent for themselves and 42 per cent for the Serbs.

But this suggestion and the Western-Russian initiative are unacceptable to the Serbs because both assume maps that would turn Bosnian Serb territory into separate, unconnected areas.

The UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, has said that, even if the UN brokers a temporary ceasefire, an extra 5,500 troops will be needed to enforce it. UN officials acknowledge that it is unclear where these troops would come from, since France and Britain - the largest contributors to UN operations in Bosnia - have grown restless with the failure of negotiations.