Bosnians sign pact to avert disaster

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of Bosnia's warring factions, meeting for the first time since peace talks collapsed nearly two months ago, agreed yesterday to 'suspend hostilities' and guarantee United Nations aid convoys unhindered passage across the country. Although similar ceasefire agreements have all failed, yesterday's deal in Geneva was widely considered to be the last chance to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Bosnia this winter.

The six-point pact, signed by Haris Silajdzic, Bosnia's Prime Minister, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and the Bosnian Croat chief, Mate Boban, was praised by Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who had called the men to Geneva to end the strangulation of aid.

'The importance of averting a humanitarian catastrophe was agreed upon by everyone,' said Ms Ogata. 'In spite of the very important positions, considerations, that each side has, they have agreed.'

In her opening statement, she said the UN had witnessed daily agony in Bosnia, but made it clear that the responsibility for avoiding more death this winter rested on the shoulders of the faction leaders. She said: 'I am not asking for new promises, but for deeds.'

UN officials have been seeking to step up the flow of aid this winter, and are including basic building materials for shelter as well as the food and medicine. All sides, but particularly the Serbs and Croats, have restricted or blocked aid passage to central Bosnia and the eastern Muslim enclaves.

According to the declaration, the parties agreed to 'ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance by suspending hostilities and allowing free and unconditional access by the most effective land routes'. They also consented to the UN being given full freedom to decide what kind of aid to send where.

The three sides, however, were unable to agree on the reopening of Tuzla airport in northern Bosnia.

UN military sources said the British UN forces, who control the only operable supply route from the sea to central Bosnia, were last night seeking to reopen the route and that Monday was the earliest feasible day for UN convoys to pass.

None the less, the obstacles facing the humanitarian effort are still enormous. Relief workers on the ground in Bosnia yesterday said that unless the agreement reached local commanders and soldiers at checkpoints, it would not be worth the paper it was written on.

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