Peace talks running out of time

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The Independent Online
LORD OWEN and Cyrus Vance are confident that negotiations on their Bosnian peace plan will be resumed next week with leaders of the three warring parties - Serbs, Croats and Muslims - all represented, but they say they have a only a few days to 'try and snatch something from the talks'.

The three-pronged diplomatic offensive, including the US-proposed air-drop of relief supplies into Bosnia, the UN Security Council's vote to set up a war crimes tribunal to try those accused of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and the call from the Council for the three warring factions to return to the table, seems to have persuaded the two missing leaders - Serbian and Muslim - to come to the UN. It is just as well that some movement towards resuming the talks is discernible, diplomats say, because further leverage is limited.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, is expected later today, and Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, who represents the Muslims, is due here tomorrow. Western diplomats believe that the US proposal to air-drop relief supplies into Bosnia was a signal to all three parties that the US is now willing to make a serious contribution - of a military nature if necessary - to the peace plan negotiations, and that the move was instrumental in persuading the Bosnian Serb leader, Mr Karadzic, to drop his objections and excuses and come to the UN.

One of his excuses was that human rights organisations here would try to serve a writ on him for war crimes, but that seems to have been set aside with the explicit invitation from the Security Council to the three leaders to resume the talks. The writ is of a civil rather than a criminal nature in any case.

Even though next week looks like make-or-break time for the Vance- Owen plan - if only because it is hard to see when, or where, the three leaders would be prepared to meet again in the near future - the co-chairmen, Mr Vance and Lord Owen, still say they do not see it that way, and they remain hopeful they can arrange a deal.

Heartened by the involvement of the US administration, which has always championed their cause, the Bosnian Muslims will come determined to re-draw parts of the map produced by Mr Vance and Lord Owen that divides Bosnia into 10 cantons with a loose central government. The Serbs will also want their own adjustments to the map.

In preparing the diplomatic ground for US air-drops, the Security Council last night issued a strongly worded condemnation of the blocking of aid trucks by Serbian paramilitary units. The blockade of relief efforts was a 'serious impediment to a negotiated settlement' in Bosnia, the statement said, referring to the Vance-Owen peace talks. The blockade was 'in flagrant violation' of Security Council resolutions, it added.

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