Richard Holbrooke, the US assistant secretary of state, said yesterday that the US peace efforts in former Yugoslavia would resume this week, despite the deaths of three members of the negotiating team in an accident near Sarajevo on Saturday.
Mr Holbrooke flew back to Washington yesterday with the bodies of his three colleagues, who died when the armoured personnel carrier in which they were travelling across Mount Igman slipped off the road and plunged into a ravine. A French UN peace-keeper also died.
Early reports suggested that the vehicle had hit a mine, laid as part of Bosnian government defenses in the area. However, Mr Holbrooke, who was travelling in another vehicle, said the accident happened when a narrow, wet section of road gave way. Some UN officials expressed surprise yesterday that the delegation was on that section of road, which is notoriously dangerous, when a safer option had been available.
The accident is unlikely to affect the new American drive to lead the peace effort which US officials believe has been made possible by the Croatian re-capture of the formerly Serb-occupied area of Krajina. The delegation had been on their way for talks with the Bosnian government in Sarajevo when the accident happened. They were due to discuss the new proposals for a territorial carve-up of Bosnia.
The bodies of Robert Frasure, US envoy to the five-nation Contact Group on Bosnia, two other US officials and the French soldier, were flown from Sarajevo to the Croatian port of Split yesterday for transport home. French Marines formed an honour guard and unloaded the coffins, draped in American and French flags, from French UN helicopters.
A US Air Force jet brought the survivors and the bodies to Ramstein air base in southern Germany.
"We went to the Bosnian conflict as a team early this week. We will return tomorrow to Washington as a team," Mr Holbrooke said. Their meeting with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, scheduled for Sunday, would be postponed for a week or eight days. "At the President's specific instructions we will resume our efforts to bring peace to this most troubled part of Europe,'' he said. "We can never replace these men, but we will reconstitute our team."
President Bill Clinton vowed on Saturday that the United States would continue efforts to end the bloodshed in Bosnia despite the death of the three US diplomats.