European ultimatum over UN troops as Bosnian talks restart

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THE prospect of United Nations forces pulling out of Bosnia-Herzegovina resurfaced again yesterday amid an outbreak of fighting in northern Bosnia and just 48 hours before US, Russian and European foreign ministers were to relaunch the faltering peace process for the former- Yugoslav republic.

UN observers confirmed yesterday that the shelling of Serb-held Brcko by Muslim- led Bosnian government forces on Tuesday night killed a pregnant woman and two children, heightening tension in a potential new flashpoint. Apparently in response, Bosnian Serbs yesterday shelled the centre of Tuzla.

While both sides have been building up forces in the area for what could be Bosnia's next big battle, the Serbs have been warned by Nato not to attack Tuzla or any of the five other UN-declared 'safe areas'.

It is against this background that Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, arrived in Washington yesterday, saying that should the United States, Russia and Europe fail to agree on a Bosnian peace plan, then European countries may have no choice but to withdraw their forces.

'If there is no political settlement of the Bosnian crisis within the next weeks, maybe the withdrawal of the Unprofor (United Nations Protection Force) will be inevitable,' said Mr Juppe.

Mr Juppe is reportedly representing a common European Union position before tomorrow's meeting in Geneva. The meeting is to assess progress by a 'contact group' of senior US, Russian and European Union officials, who have been talking to the Bosnian factions to try to establish a new basis for talks.

Diplomats, however, have said the US and the EU had failed to bridge differences over how to proceed. Europe wants to press Bosnia's government to accept a permanent ceasefire, which the Serbs have indicated they would accept. Washington reportedly stands by the Muslim refusal to accept such a truce on the grounds that it risks consolidating Serbian territorial gains. Earlier this year, Britain and France, the two largest UN force contributors, said that unless the warring parties agreed to seek peace, they would consider withdrawing troops.