Bosnia killings to stop over Christmas

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BOSNIA'S warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims agreed yesterday to observe a Christmas truce but failed to reach an overall settlement of the conflict. 'All the parties gave their consent to a Christmas truce, ending the bombardment of Sarajevo,' France's Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, said after a meeting of European Union foreign ministers and Bosnian leaders in Brussels.

Hours before the truce was to take effect, at least 68 people were reported killed on Wednesday in central Bosnia's worst fighting for months - hours before a Christmas truce was due to take effect, from today.

The Brussels meeting failed to achieve the breakthrough for which the international mediators, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, had hoped. Before the talks started, Lord Owen said: 'We are absolutely determined, if it is at all possible, to reach a settlement before Christmas.'

Denmark's Foreign Minister, Niels Helveg Petersen, said the Bosnian leaders had agreed to continue talks under the mediators' chairmanship. But the Muslims in particular are suspicious of Lord Owen, regarding him as an apologist for Serbian interests.

As in previous negotiating rounds, the talks broke up largely because of disagreement over what portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be allocated to the Muslims if the former Yugoslav republic is turned into a loose union of three ethnically based states. The Muslims rejected a joint Serb-Croat proposal, made on Tuesday, under which they would have received 33.3 per cent of Bosnia's territory.

The main sticking points for the Muslims are the status of Sarajevo and Mostar, the fate of towns in Serb-controlled eastern Bosnia and the question of access to the Adriatic Sea. The Muslims oppose Serbian and Croatian demands for the partition of Sarajevo and Mostar and want the cities to be under a United Nations and EU protectorate respectively.

On eastern Bosnia, Bosnia's Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, said his government wanted guarantees that Muslim enclaves there would be linked effectively with Sarajevo. The Muslims also contend that the Serbs should not be allowed to retain control of towns from which they have expelled entire Muslim communities. The Muslims want access to the sea at the port of Neum, but the Croats oppose this on the grounds that it would isolate part of southern Croatia, including Dubrovnik.

British soldiers were tonight preparing to move a huge mobile hospital through war-torn Bosnia - aiming to open its life-saving facilities in time for Christmas. Men from 60 Squadron, Royal Logistic Corps, started work at the Adriatic port of Ploce to load the 38 containers which make up the hospital.

They will take them by truck to Mostar, where their contents will be assembled like a jigsaw to create a hospital with casualty, operating theatres, intensive care unit, X-ray centre, labour wards, a paediatric clinic and dental surgery.

The two million-dollar (about pounds 1.3 million) cost, together with 800,000 dollars (pounds 533,000) for food, blankets, medicines and toys to keep the hospital working for up to five months without resupply, was provided by an Islamic foundation basedin South Africa.

An Army spokesman said: 'If all goes well the hospital will be in place in Mostar by Christmas and will be staffed by volunteer doctors, surgeons and nurses from throughout Europe.'