Bosnia: Talks fail as Serbs take high ground

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THE GENEVA peace negotiations on Bosnia broke up last night after Serbian commanders conquered strategic high ground above Sarajevo and refused to withdraw their forces, prompting the Muslim-led government to boycott any further talks.

The failure in Geneva, together with increased military pressure on Sarajevo, was likely to renew political pressure from Washington for the use of Nato air power against the Serbs.

The presidents of Serbia and Croatia, together with their Bosnian allies, were all expected to leave Geneva last night, after waiting all day for a meeting with the Bosnian government. The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, who refused to attend talks yesterday, remained closeted with his advisers in a lakefront hotel.

Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, the international mediators, were to meet President Izetbegovic today in an effort to persuade him to resume negotiations. Their spokesman, John Mills, spoke hopefully of a possible meeting of all the parties tomorrow.

'They've done what they've been able to do,' said Mr Mills. But there was little optimism among conference officials, rather a feeling that Serbian advances on the battlefield were now the dominant influence. Earlier, Mr Mills conceded that 'having no progress yesterday and no progress today is really serious'.

He said the Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladic, had refused to withdraw his fighting men from high ground captured in the last few days. In brazen defiance of the UN's no-fly zone over Bosnia, Gen Mladic flew in his personal Gazelle helicopter to deliver his refusal to UN officers at Sarajevo airport. As a result, the Bosnian government's military commander had declined to attend a meeting called by the UN to resolve the issue.

The deadlock in Sarajevo was reproduced in Geneva, where Mr Izetbegovic claimed that President Milosevic of Serbia and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, had broken their promises to ensure the pull-back of Serbian forces.

'We were given promises by Karadzic that they would do that. The same promise was given to me by Milosevic last night. Those promises were not fulfilled,' Mr Izetbegovic said.

Military analysts in Geneva believe it would be almost unprecedented for the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw from conquered territory. 'Mladic has never yet given up a piece of land as far as I'm aware,' said one.