'No solution for city'

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The Independent Online
THE CO-CHAIRMEN of the Geneva peace talks have told the United Nations Security Council that it may not be possible to negotiate a permanent solution for Sarajevo because the Serbs are insisting on dividing the city and making their sector capital of a Serbian republic.

President Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosnian presidency were arguing last night over whether or not to rejoin the talks under the chairmanship of Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg. Mr Izetbegovic said he would not negotiate until Bosnian Serb forces abandoned key high ground above the city, but the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said: 'We are withdrawing, step by step.'

It was later confirmed that no three- way talks took place and all three parties left the UN building. 'We had no talks,' Mr Izetbegovic said. 'We established the Serbs didn't withdraw from the mountain.' The Bosnian president said he would return for talks this morning but would again refuse to proceed without confirmation of a Serb withdrawal from the strategic mountaintops.

The Serbian claims to Sarajevo, disclosed in the co-chairmen's report to the Security Council, explain why the Bosnian government has dug in its heels over the talks and why many of its members are still pinning their hopes on strikes by Nato aircraft.

The report says the Serbs would be prepared to leave the old city centre 'in the Muslim-majority republic' while Serbian forces would retain the district of Nedarici, which they hold, and would occupy the entire district of Dobrinja, which is partly in government hands. The Bosnian Serbs have also proposed that they would establish the capital of a 'Serb minority republic' around the Serbian settlement of Ilidza. A complicated system of access has also been proposed to allow each community safe transit.

Lord Owen and Mr Stoltenberg divulge in their report that they have tried, without success, to dissuade the Serbs from such a demand, which would be unacceptable to the Bosnian government. For Mr Izetbegovic and most of his supporters 'the very idea of dividing the area surrounding Sarajevo from the city itself is inconceivable', the co-chairman say.

But Lord Owen and Mr Stoltenberg go on to say: 'On the other hand the Serb side is equally adamant that Sarajevo is surrounded by areas that have been traditionally Serb for centuries and which throughout the war have remained in Serb hands, and that these areas should be in the Serb majority republic.'

Speaking last night on the BBC Panorama programme, Lord Owen said the plan dividing Bosnia was 'made in Hell' but was probably the best option available to settle the war.

'On the other hand, given the level of violence, given the atrocities, given all the situation, it probably is more realistic now than expecting them to live together,' he said.