Milosevic cast as peacemaker: Serbian leader invited to Yugoslav peace talks

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The Independent Online
GENEVA - Serbia's nationalist President, Slobodan Milosevic, could be cast in the unusual role of peacemaker when Bosnia's warring factions meet for a crucial second round of face-to-face talks this weekend.

Mr Milosevic might seem a strange choice to invite to peace talks: he is held accountable in the West for fomenting both the Bosnian war and the Serb-Croat conflict which preceded it. But, bolstered by his crushing defeat of his moderate challenger, Milan Panic, in Serbian presidential elections three weeks ago, Mr Milosevic could hold the key to the success of the talks.

His co-operation in the peace process would not just help to end Serbia's international isolation but could defuse the threat of outside military intervention against the Serbs. 'Milosevic is the man. He has the power bases, he has the parliament, he has his party,' one European diplomat said yesterday. 'If he comes it will be a very significant development.'

Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, the co-chairmen of the Geneva peace conference, made their first move to have Mr Milosevic come to Geneva on Thursday in a letter to the Yugoslav President, Dobrica Cosic, asking if he would 'consider it appropriate' to have Mr Milosevic in his delegation.

Yugoslav officials said yesterday that it was not yet decided whether Mr Milosevic would attend the talks, which begin on Sunday. The talks will bring together political and military leaders from the three Bosnian factions and from Croatia and Yugoslavia. Officially Mr Cosic, as Federal President, is responsible for the foreign relations of both Serbia and Montenegro, the two rump Yugoslav republics. But in four months of negotiations, Mr Vance and Lord Owen have made it clear that they will talk to whoever they consider useful to the peace process.

The mediators' move to have Mr Milosevic attend the talks came a day after Mr Vance met Presidents Cosic and Milosevic in Belgrade to enlist their support in persuading the Bosnian Serbs to accept a new peace plan.

The three Bosnian factions held their first face-to-face meetings last weekend but negotiations were suspended after the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, refused to accept a decentralised Bosnia with 10 autonomous regions and insisted instead on a state-within-a-state for the Serbs.

How much influence President Milosevic can exert on Mr Karadzic remains an unanswered question. Conference officials point out, however, that it was Mr Milosevic with whom Mr Vance successfully negotiated a ceasefire to end the fighting between Serbs and Croats in Croatia last year.

'A year ago he played a broker role between Yugoslavia and Croatia. Perhaps he can play that role again,' the conference spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said.