Bosnia fighting clouds London talks

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The Independent Online
OFFICIALS from the United States, the European Union and Russia met yesterday to agree on a plan for dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina between the Muslim-Croat alliance and the Bosnian Serbs.

But as the talks got under way in London, the United Nations reported that more fighting had broken out between rival Bosnian Muslim forces in the north- western region of Bihac.

UN Protection Force (Unprofor) spokesmen said that mortar and artillery fire was exchanged between Bosnian government troops and forces under the command of Fikret Abdic, a Bihac politician and business magnate.

The fighting has undermined a UN-brokered ceasefire declared in Bosnia last Friday, and has placed a question mark over the future of international mediation efforts.

The London meeting brought together senior diplomats from the US, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. These countries have papered over their differences on the Bosnian war to produce a compromise plan that envisages allocating 51 per cent of Bosnia to a recently formed Muslim-Croat federation and 49 per cent to the Bosnian Serbs.

However, the Western nations and Russia are also likely to propose the creation of up to five 'grey areas'. These would be demilitarised and placed under neutral authority so that refugees - mainly Muslims - can return to their homes. Since these areas are currently in Serbian hands, the effect would be to reduce the amount of territory allocated to the Serbs to below 49 per cent.

With the Serbs having conquered about 70 per cent of Bosnia since the war broke out in April 1992, it is not certain they will accept the Western-Russian initiative. Equally, the Muslims and Croats want 58 per cent of Bosnia. Muslim leaders are reluctant to give up towns subjected to forced depopulation since 1992.

The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, told diplomats in London on Wednesday that he was not optimistic about the chances of securing peace in Bosnia, partly because of pressure in the US Congress on President Bill Clinton to lift the UN arms embargo against the Bosnian government. 'The truce is fragile and threatened . . . We have perhaps weeks only,' Mr Hurd said.

'Either there is a settlement soon, in the next couple of months, or there is a real risk that the arms embargo will be lifted, weaponry will flood in to both sides, Unprofor's position will become impossible, and it will have to withdraw.'

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