Bosnian leaders keep their distance

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LORD CARRINGTON yesterday appeared to be approaching exasperation with the three sides in the Bosnian conflict after holding a day's separate talks with Serbian, Muslim and Croatian ethnic leaders in London. At the same time Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, stopped off in Paris on his way to Yugoslavia to seek to persuade the French to stop undermining Lord Carrington's mission.

'I never disguised from anyone that there are enormous difficulties ahead,' Lord Carrington said after meeting the three in the gilded premises of Christie's, the auctioneers, of which he is chairman.

Asked if the first step to a settlement was a ceasefire, he said: 'Everybody has agreed to a ceasefire several times, but it hasn't happened . . . During the 11 months I've been doing this each side has been blaming the other for breaking the ceasefire.'

He was speaking after Radovan Karadzic, the Serbian leader, began the day by offering a unilateral ceasefire and said the Serbs were ready to guarantee a land corridor for the transport of humanitarian aid. The offer was dismissed by Bosnia's Muslim Foreign Minister, Haris Silajdzic, as 'another unilateral promise from the Serbs to kill more people'. Earlier unilateral ceasefire announcements by Mr Karadzic have never been respected on the ground.

'I am not prepared to sit with child- killers. Never,' Mr Silajdzic told reporters. He described the Serbian leader as a 'war criminal' adding, 'Hitler is still living in Serbia'.

Mate Boban, the Croatian leader, whose flight arrived several hours late, told Lord Carrington he supported continued negotiations and denied he had set up an independent Croatian republic inside Bosnia.

Mr Hurd, who left for his first visit to Yugoslavia yesterday, is due to visit Sarajevo on Friday. On his Paris stop-over last night, he was due to see his French counterpart, Roland Dumas - officially to draw on the 'wealth of experience' the French have of the Yugoslav crisis. Privately, British diplomats admitted they wanted 'to do all we can to underpin support for Lord Carrington' ahead of the EC foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Lord Carrington and British government officials have privately expressed irritation at remarks by the French, including Mr Dumas, that the Carrington process has run out of steam. 'Name me another show in town,' said a British official defensively about Lord Carrington's efforts yesterday. He added that the French signals had 'pretty much gone away'.

Only on Tuesday night, however - the eve of Lord Carrington's London talks - President Mitterrand repeated on television his calls for a wider conference on Yusgoslavia, to comprise the Security Council Permanent Five, the former Yugoslavia's neighbouring countries, and 'interested parties': he made no mention of Lord Carrington's efforts.

To add to the impression that the French are going their own way yet again, French sources revealed that President Mitterrand would hold talks in Paris tomorrow with Milan Panic, the new Prime Minister of the rump of Yugoslavia. Even some officials in the French Foreign Ministry were said to be concerned that the French were the only ones to receive Mr Panic. British officials said that since Britain did not recognise Serbia and Montenegro as the automatic successors to the Yugoslav state, Mr Panic would not be seen by anyone in an official position, should he choose to come to London.

The three Bosnian ethnic leaders were last night meeting Jose Cutileiro, another EC mediator, at a London hotel. The purpose of Lord Carrington's preliminary talks was to explore the possibility of a face-to-face meeting of all three under Mr Cutileiro's chairmanship. Asked if it was likely the three would be in the same room during the London round, Lord Carrington said: 'No, I don't think so.' Talks chaired by Mr Cutileiro in May were broken off by the Muslims after shells killed 16 people queuing for bread in Sarajevo.

(Photograph omitted)