Owen fears Bosnia peace talks have come to an end

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIA peace talks were on the point of breaking down last night amid confusing statements from the warring parties and uncertain action by the United Nations Security Council, caused by the government crisis in Moscow, on enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia.

In Brussels, the United States and its Nato allies agreed to send the UN final details of its contingency plans for enforcing a no-fly zone. Nato ambassadors also told military planners to begin canvassing members about possible participation in a peace-keeping force of 65,000 to 75,000 to implement any Yugoslav peace plan.

Although last-minute meetings were being scheduled in New York, Lord Owen, who has been mediating the talks with Cyrus Vance, said he thought the negotiations had come to an end. Barring strong diplomatic intervention, which did not appear to be forthcoming from the Council, Lord Owen, said of the three Bosnian factions: 'I'm afraid they'll now go off and fight.'

The most confusing statements came from the mercurial leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, who one moment said he was leaving New York and the next said he was staying. Whether he stays or goes seemed to make no difference. He has completely rejected the Vance-Owen map that would divide Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous provinces, and he cannot agree on the power-sharing proposals for an interim government after the signing of a pact.

The breakdown of the talks came after intensified Serbian attacks on Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia which were condemned by the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali.

Blame for the break-up of the talks was placed by Lord Owen on the Bosnian Muslims who for several days had been reported to be on the verge of agreeing to the Vance-Owen map, but who had refused to come to the negotiating table while the Serbian offensive was under way in Bosnia.

The hope of the mediators was to get the Muslim delegation, led by President Alija Izetbegovic, to sign the map and thus isolate the Serbs, who would then be under greater international pressure to accept the plan.

For the first time yesterday Lord Owen began voicing impatience with the diplomatic efforts of the Security Council. Part of the Vance-Owen strategy in bringing the talks six weeks ago from Geneva to New York was to conduct them in the shadow of the threat of further UN sanctions against Yugoslavia - if the Serbs refused to budge and sign up to the plan. But the Council has been slow to act, not least because the US was slow to decide its policy in the Balkans and has always been lukewarm about the peace plan on the grounds that it was too generous to the Serbs.

The government crisis in Moscow has also delayed moves. The Security Council, pressed by the US, has been moving towards a vote that would enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia. But when President Boris Yeltsin encountered his crisis with the Russian parliament, the tactic was thrown off balance. President Yeltsin did not want to aggravate his problems at home with a Russian vote that is effectively against the Serbs in the Security Council. During a visit of the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, to Washington a compromise plan was worked out in which Russia could take part in the vote, but enforcement would be delayed. Under the compromise Nato planes would start patrolling the no-fly zone only after a seven- day grace period. It was hoped that Mr Yeltsin's crisis would have eased by then.