Izetbegovic leans towards Geneva talks: Bosnian President suddenly adopts a more conciliatory line, but still wants Serb offensive and aid blockade to end

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, yesterday indicated he might attend peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva tomorrow. Lord Owen, one of the international mediators, said that Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat leaders had given him assurances that there would be a military pause for peace talks in Geneva.

'We've had assurances now from all three sides that they will pause and urge military restraint and call in their military leaders and say that while the negotiations are pending and under way there should be no further new military activity and what's under way should be toned down,' Lord Owen said. 'On that basis President Itzebegovic has said that he will come, but it is contingent that the Serbs particularly stop their attacks on Sarajevo,' he said.

Earlier, Mr Izetbegovic ruled out attending the talks. 'We think the offensives by the (Serb) enemy must stop before our departure to Geneva,' he said after meeting the European Community envoy, Willy Claes, who is trying to get the warring sides to the negotiating table.

The President was speaking as Serbian forces were reported to be attacking a strategic government stronghold on Mount Igman overlooking Sarajevo, though both sides made different claims as to who had the upper hand. Lord Owen and his fellow mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg on Tuesday invited leaders of all those involved in Bosnia's 16-month civil war to a new round of peace talks in Geneva this weekend.

A statement from the Bosnian embassy in Zagreb earlier yesterday quoted Mr Izetbegovic as saying he would not go to Geneva until local Croats lifted their blockade of UN food and medical aid to Muslims cut off by the hostilities.

Bosnia's 10-member collective presidency has come under intense pressure to return to negotiations without preconditions to discuss a Serb-Croat plan for a three-way partition of the country along ethnic lines. Mr Izetbegovic has rejected the plan, saying it amounts to genocide and rewards military conquest.

But mediators who now support the plan cite the military realities - the Serbs and Croats together hold almost 90 per cent of Bosnia - and the plight of over two million displaced people which will worsen if fighting drags on into the winter.

In Geneva, a spokesman for Lord Owen and Mr Stoltenberg said Mr Izetbegovic, the rebel Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and the leader of Bosnia's Croats, Mate Boban, had been invited to join talks at which they 'should sit in continuous session until a settlement is reached'.

Meanwhile the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, General Ratko Mladic, said yesterday his troops would soon cut off Muslim forces in the battle for Mount Igman. A Serbian conquest of the mountain would sever the last Bosnian army supply line through the Serbian siege cordon around Sarajevo. Muslim forces, however, claimed a victory in the battle for Mount Igman on Tuesday night. Sarajevo radio said government forces had retaken the Golo Brdo part of the mountain and pushed the Serbs back to their valley base of Hadzici. The Muslim-controlled radio claimed dozens of Serbs were killed in the fighting.

WASHINGTON - The US is doing all it can to alleviate a tragedy in Bosnia-Herzegovina said the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, yesterday. 'It's the world's most difficult diplomatic problem, I believe. It defies any simple solution,' said Mr Christopher. Defending the measures taken by the United States, Mr Christopher said: 'The United States is doing all that it can consistent with our national interest.'

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