Frustration at talks as deadline bluff called

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN Serbs yesterday threw down a challenge to the United Nations and the international mediators by failing to withdraw their forces from mountains above Sarajevo within a deadline set by the co-chairmen of the Geneva peace talks.

With their bluff called once again, the mediators were left in the forlorn position of trying to keep the talks going with their authority further diminished. A conference spokesman said there was a difference of opinion over the areas covered by the withdrawal and UN officers would arbitrate on the matter today. He said the Serbs agreed to accept UN arbitration and it was hoped that the full conference could reconvene this afternoon.

Throughout yesterday it appeared that the Serbs, were, in effect, challenging Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg to declare the mediation at a standstill and to follow their own precedent by referring the issue back to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He would be obliged to examine the use of air strikes by Nato forces against the Serbs, a policy opposed by the mediators and by UN commanders in Bosnia.

Lord Owen was said to be 'furious' at the Serbs, but the Serbs are now so accustomed to his fury that they appeared unlikely to be impressed by it. Instead, they were counting on the unwillingness of the mediators to give up the effort for a negotiated peace.

A Serbian spokesman last night claimed there was 'a complete lack of understanding' between the UN and the Serbs about the mountain areas included in the demand for a retreat. It seemed the Serbian commander, General Ratko Mladic, was accusing the UN of accepting Muslim definitions. The Serbs' tactics were backed up by their increasing confidence that air strikes will not be launched.

Russian diplomats in Geneva said Andrei Kozyrev, their Foreign Minister, had re-stated his opposition to military action against the Serbs. US diplomats, at the UN for consultations with Lord Owen and Mr Stoltenberg, refused to discuss the issue.

Long after their mid-morning deadline passed, when UN officers were still reporting 'thousands' of Serbian troops on Mt Igman, the two negotiators remained in frustrated seclusion. Eventually their spokesman announced that 'the co-chairmen are not satisfied that the Bosnian Serb forces have withdrawn from Mount Igman'. They had summoned the Serbian leader, Radovan Karadzic, to the UN to explain himself.

Mr Karadzic, who had earlier moved at UN expense from a city centre five-star hotel to another luxurious establishment by the lake, was said to be sleeping. Aides woke him to receive the summons. It was his second appearance at the UN, following a morning meeting at which he had confidently announced the complete withdrawal of all Serbian forces on Mt Igman. Like many of his pronouncements, this one appeared subject to subsequent modification.

A sign that the talks might yet be revived came from the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic. After a meeting with the mediators he said: 'We are waiting for their withdrawal to continue negotiations . . . they may withdraw in a short time. I have to believe this is the case.'

Mr Karadzic denied a report that he had threatened to launch nuclear strikes on Europe if the West intervened militarily in Bosnia. 'He said nothing of the kind,' his spokesman said yesterday. He had been quoted as telling an Austrian newspaper: 'We are not prepared to give up our own self-defence. It is no problem to buy nuclear weapons on the world market. We will really carry it through. We have nothing to lose.'

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 18

(Photograph omitted)