Bosnia: Moscow tries to revive talks

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN peace talks appeared to be on the brink of failure last night, and the Russian Foreign Ministry, declaring that it opposed the use of force, intervened to try to save the Geneva negotiations.

A spokesman in Moscow said the Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, was contacting all the warring parties, and would be in touch with President Bill Clinton and Nato. The announcement came as mediators in Geneva failed for a ninth day to restart three- way negotiations between Muslims, Serbs and Croats, their efforts blocked by the continued presence of Serbian troops on high ground above Sarajevo.

Bosnian diplomats in Geneva were involved in late-night meetings at the United Nations on Monday a few hours before the Moscow statement. Allied to Serbia by ties of Orthodox Christianity and historical interest, Russia has consistently opposed the use of air strikes and it now seems likely that it would veto any move to authorise aerial attacks by the UN.

The Russian move added another element to an already complex diplomatic calculation as the mediators, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, sought to pressure the Serbs to withdraw their forces from Mt Igman, above the besieged capital.

Late in the afternoon, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, told reporters: 'We have already withdrawn 50 per cent of our troops.' But officials said there was no confirmation of a Serbian withdrawal, adding that Mr Karadzic was attaching conditions to his promise to pull back.

The Serbian presence meant that President Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim head of government, again stayed away from the talks. A conference spokesman last night said Lord Owen 'hoped' to restart talks today but the prospect was uncertain.

The mediators were examining the implications of the Russian move but its immediate effect seemed to be a loss of pressure upon Mr Karadzic and the Serbian commander, General Ratko Mladic. In the absence of a credible threat - which Lord Owen maintained to be of diplomatic value - it seemed improbable that they could be compelled to compromise.

In defiant, if apparently regretful mood, Mr Karadzic told the Associated Press that air strikes 'would trigger huge battles and chaos, with tremendous human suffering of all three ethnic groups'. He said fighting might get out of hand and he might lose control of what he grandly called 'the central command' of the Bosnian Serb forces. Mr Karadzic did not explain why, if he was at present in control of this body, it did not fulfil any of the promises he has scattered around for the past week.

Mr Izetbegovic now faces the choice between reconciling his squabbling courtiers to the negotiation of defeat or remaining aloof from talks until a new military reversal at the hands of the Serbs compels him to assert the leadership he has so far failed to display. The latter course would mean entering negotiations despite complaints of those who want to fight on. Last Sunday, the President said the Serbs were trying to decide whether to talk or push for outright victory. 'If there are no air strikes, they will go for the victory,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)