Bosnians disagree whether they agree

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GENEVA (AP, AFP) - Crucial meetings on the future shape of Bosnia continued yesterday amid signs that the Muslim-led government was increasingly isolated in its aim of a united republic.

After three hours of talks, it was unclear how much progress the Bosnian government and rebel Serbs had made towards agreement on the future shape of the war-shattered republic.

'No progress,' said Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic. 'Things are going well. There are small steps in the right direction,' said the Serbian leader, Radovan Karadzic, adding the discussions had taken place as 'if there was no war'.

It was the first time Mr Izetbegovic had met face to face with his arch-enemy, Mr Karadzic, since the start of the conflict that has left more than 17,000 dead and driven 1 million from their homes. Mr Izetbegovic had previously refused to meet Mr Karadzic, accusing him of being a war criminal. The two men were in the same room as part of a larger conference gathering on Saturday.

'There was no heated argument,' said Cyrus Vance, the UN mediator. He said there had been considerable progress but 'two or three top problems' remained.

The talks came as President George Bush and President Francois Mitterrand apparently retreated from a threat of early military intervention against the Bosnian Serbs who have seized 70 per cent of Bosnian territory and have been blamed for clearing whole areas of non-Serbs.

Mr Bush and Mr Mitterrand agreed in Paris yesterday that the warring factions should be given more time to work out a diplomatic solution, although they added that the West would if necessary press ahead with action against Serbian aircraft violating the UN's no-fly zone.

On the agenda at the Geneva talks was a compromise map put forward by Mr Vance and his EC counterpart, Lord Owen, dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina into 10 autonomous provinces with few powers for central government. The mediators avoided using ethnic divisions as the sole basis for the proposed provinces, but each province does have a dominant ethnic group.

Behind the scenes, divisions were reported between the government and Croats - supposed allies on the battlefield against the Serbs. And in a particularly worrying omen for the Muslims, Dobrica Cosic, President of Serb- dominated Yugoslavia, and Croatia's President Franjo Tudjman agreed at closed-door talks that the best solution was a confederation of three ethnic nations.