Gloom grows as talks resume in Geneva: Mediators fear Bosnia peace plan could crumble under weight of renewed demands and old intransigence

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The Independent Online
A CLIMATE of growing international concern surrounds the reopening talks on Bosnia today as the mediators Lord Owen (for the European Community) and Thorvald Stoltenberg (for the United Nations) attempt to overcome Muslim reluctance to accept a partition plan and Serbian refusal to alter a word of it.

The negotiators say the alternative to a settlement is renewed war, an outcome that would almost certainly result in further Muslim losses. At present the Muslim-led government controls only some 10 per cent of the territory but would gain up to 30 per cent under the disputed plan.

A United Nations official, who asked not to be named, said the partition plan had emerged from long discussions and it could fall apart if Muslims and Serbs began arguing over compromises already discussed. 'Those concessions - and the whole package for that matter - are not going to stay on the table indefinitely,' the official said. 'Everyone is fully aware of the dangers associated with opening up the package for fresh negotiations.'

Adding force to this, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said on his arrival in Geneva yesterday that it was too late for Muslims to negotiate over a map of the country's proposed ethnic division. 'They should have accepted it. Otherwise they risk losing everything,' he said.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, arrived in Geneva yesterday and he is likely to meet the Bosnian Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic. The peace talks were due to resume yesterday but were pushed back a day after Mr Izetbegovic had problems flying out of his besieged capital Sarajevo. He arrived in Geneva yesterday evening. He made no comment, but before leaving Sarajevo he said: 'I feel like a thirsty man who is being sent into the desert to find water.'

Mr Boutros-Ghali is also to meet his Nato counterpart, Manfred Worner, in Geneva tomorrow. They are expected to discuss the possible use of Nato air strikes in Bosnia. Some diplomats think Mr Boutros-Ghali might choose to intervene in the peace talks if it such a move would help to break the deadlock.

In the absence of any initiative of this kind, conference officials were resigned to a tedious round of bargaining as Serbs, Muslims and Croats set out their positions, few of which appear to leave room for compromise.

Mr Karadzic said he had fought hard to persuade his supporters to accept the plan and could not guarantee any further concessions. Under the plan, the Serbs would get more than 50 per cent of Bosnian territory but would also withdraw from areas they control.

But Bosnian government is seeking substantial renegotiation over the boundaries of the three proposed ethnic republics, including the return of Serbian-occupied towns and a broad outlet to the sea. The Bosnian Croats have proclaimed the existence of their own state. They are now enmeshed in a war against Muslim forces over their respective boundaries in central Bosnia, a contest that military observers fear is likely to intensify.

Against this gloomy diplomatic backdrop, an international conference for the protection of war victims opened in Geneva yesterday. Organised by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the conference is intended to restate and give new life to the Geneva Conventions and their supplementary protocols.

In a clear reference to the war in the former Yugoslavia, Cornelio Sommaruga, the ICRC's head, said: 'Entire populations are forced to flee, subjected to reprisals, harassed, threatened by famine or fall victim to indiscriminate bombardment. Women are raped, detainees are tortured, used as bargaining counters, forced to work on the front lines, while many others are summarily executed.'