Deadline passes for handover of pilots

Balkan peace process: France warns Dayton deal may be thrown into jeopardy if Serbs play cat-and-mouse

As France's deadline passed for the Bosnian Serbs to produce the two missing French pilots, there was no sign that the Serbs were willing to comply, and speculation mounted that the pilots, shot down three months ago, were dead.

The French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, said in London on Friday that if the men were not handed back by midnight yesterday, the entire Bosnian peace process could be in danger. France gave no indication of what it might do in retaliation.

Last week, President Jacques Chirac threatened the Bosnian Serbs with unspecified consequences if the pilots were not produced, and at last week's Peace Implementation Conference in London, France made clear that prospects for peace in former Yugoslavia could hinge on the pilots' fate.

Paris is keen to ensure that there is clarity about the men before it hosts the ceremonial signing of the Dayton accords in Paris on Thursday. Pressure built yesterday for postponement of the ceremony.

"It's out of the question to sign the Bosnia peace treaty when our husbands have not been returned," Isabelle Souvignet, wife of the missing navigator Jose Souvignet, told the newspaper Journal de Dimanche. The paper said it would be impossible for Mr Chirac to appear alongside President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, who negotatiated on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs.

The magazine Paris Match published photographs in September that purported to show the two pilots, Frederic Chiffot and Mr Souvignet, still alive after their Mirage jet was shot down over the Bosnian Serb "capital", Pale, on 30 August. Early last week, the French Defence Minister, Charles Millon, said he had information that the two were being held by a Bosnian Serb group.

But Mr Chirac said later he had no reliable information even that the pilots were alive. A French parliamentary delegation went to Belgrade last week to find out more, but left with no further information.

The most bizarre contribution was a statement two months ago by Mr Milosevic that the two pilots had been removed from a hospital in Pale and their whereabouts was no longer known.

The statement was interpreted variously as strange enough to be true, or a fabrication to cover up the fact that Mr Milosevic had been unable to produce them.

Last week, one French report said the two had been seriously injured while in captivity - it was speculated that one had lost a leg - and that this was the reason both why they had been in hospital and why they had not yet been handed back.

At the same time, Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said that Mr Chirac could speed up freedom for the pilots if he obtained assurances for Bosnian Serbs over their future in Sarajevo.

Officially, France expressed disgust that the safety of the pilots could be treated as a bargaining chip. Since the accords were agreed in Dayton, however, France has argued for improved guarantees for Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo.

It was impossible to say whether Mr Karadzic's veiled threat meant the pilots were still alive or whether it was a last, cynical attempt to benefit from the continued uncertainty.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea