Bosnia: Peace talks postponed until Serbs pull out

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The Independent Online
THE INTERNATIONAL mediators, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, yesterday suspended the Bosnian peace talks until Monday for United Nations officers in Sarajevo to ensure Serbian forces had withdrawn as promised from a mountain above the capital.

The Serbian forces agreed yesterday to withdraw before this afternoon behind a demarcation line, proposed by the UN and accepted by the Bosnian army, according to the UN General Francis Briquemont. He said the two parties had agreed to sign an accord finalising the agreement this afternoon at 4pm (2pm GMT).

The agreement, and the reopening of a road to allow a convoy into Sarajevo, signalled new flexibility by the Serbs in the face of international pressure. Opening two roads into the Bosnian capital, besieged by the Serbs for 16 months, and withdrawal from Mount Igman, overlooking Sarajevo, are key tests as the threat of Nato air strikes hangs over the Serbs.

'They want to get the government back to the negotiating table,' Commander Barry Frewer, the spokesman for UN peace-keepers, said of the Serbs.

Lord Owen, one of the mediators, said: 'We will examine the situation again by Monday and I hope that the negotiations can resume. The failure by the Serbs to pull all their forces off Mount Igman has kept the Muslim side away from talks and prompted the bitterest row for months between the mediators and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.

A British brigadier from the UN spent most of yesterday on the mountainside watching Serbian movements, amid unconfirmed reports that the Serbs had simply rotated some troops and were installing anti-

aircraft batteries.

Mr Karadzic yesterday sent his newly appointed spokesman, Jovan Zametica, to explain the Serbian action to the press. 'So far as Serbs are concerned Sarajevo is already an open city,' he said, 'in fact, there has never been a siege of Sarajevo.' He conceded that Serbian artillery might occasionally be obliged to respond to Muslim 'provocation' but insisted that there existed no reason, so far as the Serbs were concerned, why the talks should not resume at once. Lord Owen informed all the parties of the decision and all agreed to await news form Mount Igman.

The fact that no substantial three- way talks have taken place for almost two weeks offered further proof that almost all momentum had been lost in the negotiations. The postponement was also certain to reinforce calls for Nato air strikes against the Serbs, if only to demonstrate a political point in the face of delay and intransigence.

The Muslim-led government of Bosnia remained angry and defiant, maintaining it was under pressure to accept the partition of the state and the eventual division of Sarajevo.

Even if negotiations resume next week there are fearful disputes over territory. Lord Owen has aready said that it may be impossible to reach a settlement for Sarajevo.