Latest Bosnia peace plan collapsing: Muslim army successes help scupper proposal to broaden negotiations to other areas of conflict in former Yugoslavia

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The Independent Online
THE latest international proposals for ending the wars in former Yugoslavia appear to be collapsing even before they have got off the ground. Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslim leaders oppose fundamental elements of the proposals, which involve convening an international conference and broadening the focus of talks from Bosnia to all territorial and ethnic problems in the former Yugoslavia.

Another setback was the breakdown of this week's talks in Norway between Croatia and its Serbs from the Krajina region. At the same time an emphatic Muslim victory over Croats at Vares in central Bosnia, and the continued rebellion of Muslims in the north-western region of Bihac against the Sarajevo government, have set the stage for more fighting in Bosnia throughout the winter.

International mediators, looking to restart negotiations after the collapse of the Geneva talks in September, had floated the possibility of a conference in January. But the Sarajevo political and military leadership, recently reorganised and more hawkish, is threatening to boycott such a conference if it revives the idea of a three-way partition of Bosnia.

The new Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, said on Wednesday that no progress would be possible if 'the same old people' organised the talks - a reference primarily to Lord Owen, despised in Sarajevo as a Serbian tool. He complained that Lord Owen and his co-mediator, Thorvald Stoltenberg, had recently visited Belgrade and Zagreb but had made no contact with Sarajevo for a month.

Meanwhile, President Alija Izetbegovic is talking again of restoring Bosnia as a single state with an active central government. The idea is anathema to Bosnian Serbs and not very appealing to the Croats, but Mr Izetbegovic has drawn encouragement from recent Muslim military successes.

Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, made clear on Wednesday that he had no interest in an 'all-Yugoslav' conference that would, for example, establish minority rights for Serbs in Croatia on condition that Albanians and Hungarians in Serbia receive similar treatment. Mr Milosevic added that it might be best if foreigners stopped trying to shape a settlement in the Balkans.

However, in a sign of his eagerness to see crippling United Nations sanctions against Serbia lifted, he held out the prospect of ending the conflicts by striking a deal with Croatia's President, Franjo Tudjman.

Despite Muslim opposition, the two men have already agreed on Bosnia's partition into ethnically-based republics. But there are grave doubts whether the Krajina Serbs would accept a Milosevic-Tudjman initiative to return even part of Krajina to Croatian sovereignty. Mr Tudjman has offered autonomy to Croatia's Serbs, but they are adamant that only full independence will suffice.

The Serbs point to gestures such as the vote in July by Mr Tudjman's party to replace the dinar with the kuna, the name of Croatia's currency in the 1940s when a Nazi-backed Croatian state massacred large numbers of Serbs. However, Mr Tudjman believes he cannot grant independence to Krajina, since this would virtually divide Croatia in two and leave the vital Dalmatian coast vulnerable to Serbian pressure. His fears were reinforced last month when the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, announced that the Serbs were demanding part of the Croatian coast.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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