Bosnians try again for peace

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of Bosnia's three ethnic groups gather in London today in another effort to end the war in the former Yugoslav republic. Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim Foreign Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Radovan Karadzic, the leader of Bosnia's Serbs, and Mate Boban, a senior Croatian leader, will hold separate talks with Lord Carrington, the peace envoy of the European Community.

All previous attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the war have ended in failure, but Lord Carrington has denied that he intends to throw in the towel. He received support yesterday from Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who told a European Parliament conference: 'Nobody supposes that we in the European Community . . . can guarantee peace and happiness in the former Yugoslavia. Where there is no will for peace, we cannot supply it.'

He added: 'We have an absolute obligation to persevere, and we must do our best to show the leaders and people of the former Yugoslavia that there are European . . . solutions which we offer to them and which we hope they will eventually grasp.'

British officials said the three Bosnian leaders would confer with an EC mediator, Jose Cutileiro of Portugal, after meeting Lord Carrington. If progress is made, the talks could go on for two or three days. 'It's a step in the right direction just getting them here, but a very small one,' one said.

At least 7,500 people have been killed in Bosnia since the war broke out in early April, several thousand are missing, and United Nations relief officials say that about 1.7 million people - or more than one-third of Bosnia's population - have been displaced by the fighting. The war has resulted in a de facto carve-up of the republic between Serbian and Croatian forces, with the Muslims - the largest ethnic group - left with almost no territory.

Serbian fighters expect this week to capture the town of Gorazde, the last remaining Muslim stronghold in eastern Bosnia. All communications are cut with the town, where about 30,000 Muslim refugees have sought sanctuary, and doctors report a catastrophic shortage of food and medicines.

UN peace-keepers in Sarajevo said yesterday that both sides were violating a ceasefire and that Croatian forces had advanced to within six miles of the Bosnian capital, which has been under Serbian siege for three months. 'It is a fair assumption that they (the Croats) are firing within 10km (six miles) of Sarajevo,' said Mik Magnusson, a UN spokesman.

The UN building in Sarajevo came under mortar fire on Monday night in what Mr Magnusson said was the most concentrated attack since the war started. Two civilians were killed and 20 wounded. In a separate incident, UN troops shot dead a Serbian sniper who had wounded a Canadian soldier at Sarajevo airport. It was the first time the UN forces had killed a combatant in the war.

In Belgrade, a Serbian-born American millionaire, Milan Panic, was installed as Serbia's new Prime Minister and immediately pledged to end the war. 'My government will guarantee to the international community that it will do everything in order to turn this region into a factor of peace in Europe. There is no idea worth killing for at the end of the 20th century,' he said.

Mr Panic has promised to secure the removal from Bosnia of all weapons belonging to the Yugoslav armed forces and to achieve 'true democratisation' in Serbia itself. However, Serbian opposition leaders suspect that real power will remain in the hands of President Slobodan Milosevic, to whom the West attaches most blame for the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

The non-partisan newspaper Borba predicted on Monday that Mr Milosevic would resign after Mr Panic's appointment but, even if that turns out to be true, it is possible that he will continue to pull the strings from behind the scenes.

Leading article, page 20

(Photograph omitted)

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