Bosnia talks spur hope

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The Independent Online
GENEVA (Reuter, AP) - The international mediators, Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, are signalling cautious optimism that a new peace effort starting in Geneva today can shape a political settlement to the Yugoslav crisis.

But independent diplomats said there would have to be radical shifts in the positions of the main parties to the Bosnian conflict if their first face-to-face negotiations since March last year were not to collapse in failure.

Mr Vance told reporters as he flew back from a day-long visit to Sarajevo on Wednesday that Bosnian Serb officials had welcomed as 'an excellent basis for proceeding' a map he and Lord Owen had produced for a new-style state of Bosnia. And a spokesman for the mediators, Fred Eckhard, said Lord Owen had had a 'useful and businesslike meeting' in Belgrade with Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic, widely seen as a strong influence on the Serbs in Bosnia.

'There are now a lot of collateral discussions going on that portend well for the talks starting on Saturday,' Mr Eckhard said. 'No one is raising expectations of a breakthrough, but there are positive indications.'

Today's encounter, if it takes the form planned by Mr Vance and Lord Owen, will bring together for the first time since last March the key leaders in the Bosnian drama.

Attending will be President Alija Izetbegovic, the Slav Muslim leader of the rump Bosnian government in Sarajevo; Radovan Karadzic, who leads the rebel Serbs; and Mate Boban of the Croats who have a loose alliance with the government forces.

Also present will be Presidents Dobrica Cosic of Federal Yugoslavia, which links Serbia and Montenegro, and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, whose states have major bilateral problems to resolve but also exert strong influence in Bosnia.

In Sarajevo on Thursday, Bosnians booed the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and spat on his car when he appealed for more time to let peace talks work. 'We don't need him,' said one bystander, Suada Sbegovic, outside the Bosnian presidency where Mr Boutros-Ghali met government officials. 'What we need is intervention.'