Croats agree to Bosnian truce

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Bosnian Croats agreed yesterday to join a four-month Bosnian truce whose patchiness was demonstrated by a thunderous explosion at the Holiday Inn hotel in Sarajevo, home to many foreign journalists.

A rocket fired from a front-line position into the hotel marked the most flagrant and public breach of the ceasefire, but otherwise it held fairly well across the country. No one was hurt in the blast.

General Bertrand de Lapresle, the UN commander in former Yugoslavia, held talks at Zagreb airport with Borislav Mikelic, a leader of the Krajina Serbs, who are attacking Bosnian forces across the Croatian border in Bihac. "The focus of discussion is our deep concern for Krajina Serb involvement in the Bihac pocket fighting," Thant Myint-U, a UN spokes-man, said. "We do not know how many troops are engaged, but Krajina plays a critical role by avoiding to withdraw in spite of our repeated requests."

The UN fears that fighting in Bihac, involving as it does two armies that are not party to the truce, could wreck the deal. Rebel Muslims loyal to a local businessman, Fikret Abdic, have agreed to cease fire; General de Lapresle hoped to persuade the Krajina Serbs to follow suit.The pocket was relatively quiet yesterday, as was the rest of Bosnia, according to UN spokesmen. Monitors recorded occasional bursts of gunfire and only a few detonations.

The first of several regional commissions, created to negotiate the nuts and bolts of an agreement to separate the warring factions, met in Sarajevo yesterday afternoon and, according to UN sources, agreed on a Bosnian military withdrawal from Mount Igman, a strategic tract of territory to the south.

UN spokesmen also said that peace-keeping troops could deploy between the warring parties at or before the end of January. The parties must decide how far to pull troops back from their frontline trenches, and where to deploy peace-keepers to monitor thecease-fire.

The next step should bring political talks on a permanent settlement, based somehow on the five-nation Contact Group peace plan that was drawn up last summer and comprehensively rejected by the Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale.The Bosnian Serbs and Sarajevo government are still far apart.

Members of the group are apparently suffering from a similar malaise, analysts in Sarajevo say, and have yet to pronounce on the cessation of hostilities agreement. Diplomats from the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have agreed to meeton Thursday, reportedly to decide what to do next.

Observers in Bosnia say they should act quickly, or risk missing the opportunity created by the pause for peace.