Insults fly as Bosnia talks start

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TALKS on the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina re-opened in London yesterday, amid signs that the European Community-sponsored forum is moribund.

The Serbian, Croatian and Muslim delegations show little sign of any agreement, there are widening divisions between its sponsors, and the conference is overshadowed by a larger gathering planned for next month.

Even before the talks opened, insults were flying. The Bosnian Foreign Minister, Haris Silajdzic, accused the leaders of Bosnia's Serbian community of using the talks as a cover for aggression. He said he had come to London only to inform, not to negotiate. The declaration on Sunday of a Serbian republic of Bosnia was in 'full disrespect' of diplomatic efforts and showed a 'repulsive disregard of human rights', he said.

'They have been using these talks as a cover in order to get more territories, to expel as many people as possible and to kill as much as possible,' Mr Silajdzic said of the Serbs.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, in a letter to Lord Carrington, said that Mr Silajdzic would brief mediators on the war. A deal on 17 July agreed on a 14-day ceasefire, the placing of heavy weaponry under UN control and the repatriation of refugees. None of this has happened, and it seems unlikely that it will.

'I assure you that the war will continue unless heavy armour is eliminated. The resumption of talks in such a situation would only mean a cover-up for the continuation of aggression,' Mr Izetbegovic said in his letter. 'The legitimate government of Bosnia does not agree to be drawn into this game.'

But Bosnia's Croats have rejected Mr Silajdzic's right to represent the Bosnian government at the London talks. The teams at the negotiations are 'those of the three constituent peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina,' the Croat group said in a statement yesterday. Mr Silajdzic was 'only the representative of the Muslim people,' it added.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said he was not optimistic. 'We still do have hopes that Britain's diplomacy is going to succeed to help us to find a political solution to our crisis,' he told a news conference after the comments from Mr Izetbegovic. 'Unfortunately we don't know whether they (the Muslims) take these talks seriously or not.'

Portuguese diplomat Jose Cutileiro is mediating this round of talks, expected to last three days. Mr Cutileiro said yesterday that he would continue, despite ceasefire breaches. 'Our information indicates that all parties are responsible for non-compliance with the ceasefire of the 17th; nevertheless all parties wanted to come here,' he said yesterday.

Lord Carrington, the mediator in the EC talks, is taking more of a back-seat role in this round of talks, which are to focus on constitutional developments rather than brokering another ceasefire.

Two UN representatives also attended yesterday's talks after the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, complained he was insufficiently consulted over the last round. But the talks have been overshadowed by Britain's weekend announcement that it was calling an international peace conference on Yugoslavia late next month. A few hours before, the UN Security Council invited the EC to examine widening and intensifying the conference.