Hurd offers Bosnians only words

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The Independent Online
THE Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, visited Sarajevo for three hours yesterday, and brought fine words but little comfort to the Bosnian leadership, which is desperately seeking international guarantees to prevent Bosnia being carved up by its neighbours.

Mr Hurd, wearing a protective flak jacket over his suit, emerged for a few minutes from a United Nations armoured personnel carrier to look at the site where 16 people were killed on 27 May, while waiting to buy bread. Mr Hurd signed a book of remembrance there, and said he was pleased to have had this 'brief walk' in Sarajevo, which he described as 'a place of danger and suffering'.

As Mr Hurd paid homage at the site, a Bosnian cellist played Albinoni's Adagio - as he frequently does at that spot, in what he describes as a 'protest against war'. Mr Hurd said that, despite Serbian demands, Bosnia must not be divided: 'We won't accept the partition of Bosnia as though it were Poland in the eighteenth century.'

He said that Serbia bore the 'main responsibility' for the conflict in Bosnia. He again insisted, however, that he 'couldn't imagine' sending in troops - as Bosnia has repeatedly requested, to protect the city from further attacks.

As though to emphasise the belief of the Serbian forces that might is still right, a mortar, fired from the Serbian-held hills above Sarajevo, landed close to the presidency building while the talks between Mr Hurd and the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, were continuing. According to the Bosnian news agency, 14 people were injured.

When Mr Hurd and Mr Izetbegovic returned to their vehicles, after visiting the site of the massacre, there was scattered applause. But Esrefa, a retired book-keeper, said, as she watched Mr Hurd climb back into his armoured personnel carrier: 'The world could have done much more for Sarajevo.' Selma, an electrical engineer, said: 'Let him send planes - that would be good.'

Mr Hurd's comments after his talks yesterday made it clear that Britain is still reluctant to become further involved in what it sees as a murky Balkan conflict. Mr Izetbegovic tried to soften Mr Hurd's stance, saying that the European Community was 'not yet' ready for intervention. None the less, the Bosnian leaders said after the talks that Mr Hurd had 'missed the opportunity to see the town, which was destroyed. He only saw part of one street'. Mr Hurd also declined an invitation to visit a Sarajevo hospital, in what Mr Izetbegovic described as 'a kind of misunderstanding'.

Asked what would happen if the Serbs continued to press for a division of Bosnia, Mr Hurd said that there were 'widely differing military analyses of the situation around Sarajevo'. It was unclear what scenarios Mr Hurd was referring to; most observers in Sarajevo have little doubt that the Serbian forces surrounding Sarajevo are ready to force the city into submission, as a prelude to dividing Bosnia up - unless they are somehow forced to back off from that plan.

Mr Izetbegovic emphasised that he did not trust the promises made by Radovan Karadzic, the self-proclaimed leader of Bosnian Serbs, who had talked in London this week about a possible ceasefire for Sarajevo and the eastern Bosnian town of Gorazde. 'He has talked many times about a ceasefire - and he did not respect that, ever.'

Mr Izetbegovic spoke before news was known of the ceasefire agreement reached in London yesterday which is supposed to take effect at 6pm local time tomorrow. The agreement was reached in talks between leaders of Bosnia's three ethnic groups. The truce is intended to last for two weeks, and more talks are scheduled in London on 27 July.

General Lewis MacKenzie, the Canadian commander of the UN forces in Sarajevo, confirmed his resignation yesterday, but insisted that this had nothing to do with threats against him. It was normal, he said, that since Canadian troops were being rotated out of Sarajevo, he should be replaced by someone of a different nationality.

(Photograph omitted)

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