Ceasefire deal offers little hope for Bosnia

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA'S Serbs agreed to an informal, one-month truce with their Muslim and Croatian enemies yesterday, but clashes between the two sides continued in an area south of the Muslim-held city of Tuzla.

The truce, which is to take effect from noon tomorrow, is the first such accord to cover the whole of Bosnia since the war broke out in April 1992.

Its chances of success looked slim, however, since military leaders on both sides did not sign the agreement and neither the Serbs nor the Muslim-Croat alliance regarded it as a formal ceasefire.

At best, the accord offers a breathing space during which international mediators can make another attempt at brokering a permanent end to the war.

The United Nations envoy, Yasushi Akashi, had originally asked the two sides to accept a four- month ceasefire, followed by the separation of forces, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from conflict lines and the introduction of more than 5,000 extra UN peacekeeping troops.

But the Muslims and Croats rejected this proposal on the grounds that a four-month truce would give the Bosnian Serbs time to consolidate their territorial gains.

'What we got was certainly less than what I tried to get at the outset,' Mr Akashi told reporters in Geneva. 'But under the circumstances a more ambitious undertaking was not within reach.'

While the truce negotiations proceeded this week, Serbian and Muslim-led Bosnian government forces carried on with their war regardless. Fighting was intense in the Posavina region of northern Bosnia, where the Serbs control a narrow but important corridor linking Serbia with Serb-held parts of Bosnia and Croatia.

UN military officers reported heavy shelling on Tuesday and yesterday near Ribnica, near the northern Muslim stronghold of Tuzla. Neither side appeared to be making a decisive breakthrough.

Even if the truce holds, a broader peace settlement seems a long way off. The Muslim-Croat alliance and the Serbs have not endorsed a Western-Russian proposal to split Bosnia, giving 51 per cent to the Muslims and Croats and 49 per cent to the Serbs.

The Western powers and Russia are expected later this month to present the final maps on which this proposal is based. If the initiative gets nowhere, France, Britain and other countries may decide to scale down their peacekeeping operations in Bosnia.