Bosnian Serbs given tough peace deadline

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN UNION and Nato military planners meet in Brussels today to put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to accept a peace agreement by tomorrow.

The five-country contact group put a 'take it or leave it' deal to divide up the country before the warring parties 10 days ago. If a deal is reached tomorrow, implementing it will be a huge task; if it is not, the EU and Nato are committed to military and political sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs.

Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader, must put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to agree to a peace deal, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said on Friday. 'I believe there are ways in which he can exert himself, should he so choose, that will be effective in bringing the Bosnian Serbs in Pale to their senses,' he told reporters after the special summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Friday.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said at the weekend that his parliament would 'probably say no' to the Geneva proposal, which gives the Serbs 49 per cent of Bosnian territory, when it meets in Pale today. Mr Karadzic said the plan aimed to snatch away some 20 towns, major communication lines, economic resources and river valleys. 'But the people do not want this, and will probably say 'no',' he added. Such a response would, be disastrous for the Serbs, Mr Hurd said. Anything but a clear 'yes' to the plan, and the new map of Bosnia drawn up by Russia and the West, would trigger tighter sanctions against Serbia and ultimately the lifting of the arms embargo.

Mr Hurd briefed EU leaders on his trip last week to Bosnia with the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe. His message was not optimistic, officials said. The signs were that the Bosnian Serb leadership was in no mood for compromise. 'There is a very real danger of a drift back into war,' he said.

While the Bosnian Serbs consider the peace deal, EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels today. The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, said at the summit last week that the 12 leaders had sent 'a renewed, massive and urgent appeal to the parties to accept the peace plan'. The foreign ministers are likely to underline this.

Military officials from Nato, the contact group and countries that have sent troops also meet in Brussels today to consider two options for Bosnia. The first, optimistic scenario relies on a peace deal being signed. In that eventuality, arrangements for policing it must be put into place as soon as possible. Nato military authorities are drawing up plans that will be announced on Wednesday to Nato ambassadors. But Russia has raised objections to Nato overseeing a peace deal alone, sources said at the end of last week. Such objections would torpedo any US contribution of ground forces, because one of the key American conditions for involvement is Nato command and control of the operation. This would put pressure on the other Western states to increase their contributions to help make up the 50,000-strong force. The other alternative is a grimmer scenario. If there is no peace deal, there is likely to be an increase in hostilities, attacks on UN troops and their eventual evacuation. Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, said last night that the UN peacekeepers might have to withdraw by the end of the summer and make way for a Nato fighting force if Bosnian Serbs say 'no' to the peace plan. Lt-Gen Rose said that enforcement options contemplated by the international community to force Serb compliance with the plan would push his 18,000 peace-keepers over the line into active confrontation with a hostile force, a task beyond their capabilities.