Monitors provide one glimmer of hope

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THE MASS of words on all sides on the second day of the London conference on Yugoslavia yesterday served to half-conceal the reality - that immense confusion still reigns as to what the world should do next.

However, there was hopeful movement in one area: the US acting Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, told a news conference at the end of the meeting that it had agreed to send human-rights monitors to Vojvodina, Kosovo and Sandzak - areas of Serbia with considerable populations of ethnic Hungarians, Albanians and Muslims - to try to prevent the ethnic war spreading. Monitors would also be sent to neighbouring countries, he said, adding: 'The United States will not accept anything other than a return to the status quo ante.'

At the conference, a suggestion by the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Milan Panic, that UN observers should be stationed along the Serb-Bosnian border appeared to have been accepted in principle by the Serbs and by others.

But it is still unclear how these observers would work. The UN forces in eastern Croatia have so far been powerless - as they have openly acknowledged - to ensure the rights of Croats living in the Serb-held areas theoretically under UN control.

If the blue-helmet forces are indeed posted on the border, they might well be as powerless as their colleagues in eastern Croatia have been.

The Serbian acceptance of the border plan is based partly on the insistence of the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, that Serbs from Serbia proper have never been involved in the Bosnian fighting. (Like many other Western journalists, I have spoken to members of the Serbian attacking forces in Bosnia who did not hide the fact they had come from Serbia itself.)

Lawrence Eagleburger, the acting US Secretary of State, delivered tough words in London against the Serbs, saying that they faced a 'spectacularly bleak future' unless they changed their 'reckless course'. He said: 'The civilised world simply cannot afford to allow this cancer in the heart of Europe to flourish, much less spread.'

However, Serbs at the conference seemed unmoved by all the tough rhetoric and were almost bullish. Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, promised that all detention camps would be closed, and condemned 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia. But such promises have been heard before, and seem unlikely to lead anywhere. There were freqent gasps of astonishment from his audience of journalists - many of whom have travelled widely in Bosnia in recent weeks and months - at some of Mr Karadzic's most defiant claims.

These included the suggestion that there were 'no civilians' in the Serb- run detention camps in Bosnia (journalists have talked to civilians in the camps), and his suggestion that the Serbian forces have played no attacking role. 'The Muslims have very heavy artillery. Sometimes the Serbs are forced to respond.'

The papers adopted yesterday included a Statement of Principles, only slightly modified from a statement that had been prepared before the conference opened. The principles include condemnation of 'ethnic cleansing' ('forcible expulsions and attempts to change the ethnic composition'); and respect for 'independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the region'; and 'commitment of all parties to recognise each other mutually, and to respect each others' status and rights'.

One change to the previously prepared draft was the addition of the phrase guaranteeing the 'right to self-determination', in addition to commitments on human rights and the promotion of tolerance.

This would theoretically allow Serbs to break away from Bosnia, in Serb- majority areas. Equally, however - and much more difficult for the Serbs to swallow - it would allow the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo to break away from Serbia.