Peace mission in Balkans runs aground

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The Independent Online
THE PEACE mission to the former Yugoslavia by the international mediators Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance ran aground yesterday, after Serbian leaders in Bosnia rejected a new constitution for the republic, and a mission to Serbia's Kosovo province failed to bring about hoped-for face-to- face talks between the Serbian authorities and local Albanians.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, turned down the peace mediators' proposals for a new constitution, claiming it sounded 'too close to what (the Muslim Bosnian President) Alija Izetbegovic offered last year'. He said the plan was unacceptable to Bosnian Croats, as well as to Serbs, although it contained 'elements we can work on'.

Under the proposal, Bosnia would be a sovereign state comprising seven to 10 regions enjoying far-reaching autonomy. The central government would remain responsible for foreign policy and defence, while other functions would be devolved to the regions. The plan was accepted by leaders of Bosnian Muslims - the largest ethnic group in the republic - because it ruled out setting up regions on an ethnic basis. The Muslims oppose any settlement which appears to sanction 'ethnic cleansing'. The proposed constitution is seen as an attempt to thwart a Serbian-Croatian carve- up of Bosnia.

The plan is unlikely to get off the ground, as Bosnian Serbs and Croats have already succeeded in dividing most of the republic's territory between them, on a two- thirds/one-third share. Muslims hold only tiny fragments of land and the centre of Sarajevo.

A joint mission to Kosovo by the two mediators and Milan Panic, Prime Minister of the rump Yugoslavia, failed to break the stalemate in the province between the Serbian authorities and the local Albanian majority.

Following talks with Serbs and Albanians in the province's capital, Pristina, the two mediators announced success in persuading Albanians to call off a two-year boycott of the Serb-run primary- school system. But the mission failed to secure broader goals - to kick-start direct talks between Serbs and local Albanians, and to bolster the position of Mr Panic by persuading Albanians to vote in Serbian elections in December.

At the end of the visit there was no sign that potential conflict between Serbs and Albanians had been averted.

Albanians voted heavily in secret elections last year for independence. But Lord Owen said there existed broad international agreement only for autonomy. 'Kosovo should remain part of Serbia, but have special status, or autonomy,' he said.

Albanian leaders linked the lack of progress in the talks to their disappointment over what they said was Mr Panic's failure to keep the earlier promises he made to the Albanian community. Ibrahim Rugova, leader of Kosovo's biggest Albanian party, claimed that police repression of the Albanian community in Kosovo had actually got worse since Mr Panic made a highly publicised visit to the province two weeks ago. Mr Panic pledged then to reopen Kosovo's higher-education system to Albanians and end the often brutal police harassment of Albanian leaders and the media.

SARAJEVO - Serb forces fulfilled one of their longstanding aims in central Bosnia by capturing the town of Jajce, leaving its mainly Muslim population of 10,000 facing a terrifying future, Reuter reports.

Bosnian television announced last night that the town's Muslim and Croat defenders had fled with a large number of civilians.

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