Rose says Bosnia deal near

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The United Nations commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, yesterday said he was optimistic the warring factions would iron out the last details of an agreement to implement the cessation of hostilities deal signed on new year's eve. "There is no genuine point of issue," he said, but rather a lack of confidence between the enemies.

The deal foundered on Wednesday after a last-minute dispute over the means of verification. Yesterday the UN won Bosnian agreement to a Serb proposal for helicopter patrols over front-line areas, so the general is hopeful an agreement can be signed today.

But problems remain, most notably in the Bihac pocket. The UN reported 67 explosions near the town of Velika Kladusa between 10.30am and noon. No later updates were available because Bangladeshi peace-keepers in the area had run out of fuel.

"As far as we know there is absolutely no fuel left [in Bihac]," Thant Myint-U, a UN spokesman said. "The generator is off, so the phones are down. There is still radio contact."

A supply convoy for the Bangladeshi peace-keepers in the enclave was held up for more than 24 hours by troops loyal to a rebel Muslim entrepreneur, Fikret Abdic, in Velika Kladusa. Heavily armed soldiers prevented the convoy's passage, but did not threaten UN troops, Mr Thant said. The lorries are now believed to be moving towards Bihac town.

During the stand-off, Abdic forces demanded the UN unload the convoy for inspection. "The Abdic soldiers there were [reported] to be carrying anti-tank missiles, but we haven't received any report they were threatening or abusing UN staff," Mr Thant said. Another UN spokesman added: "There have been extensive, irritating, petty bureaucratic obstacles put about by Abdic."

Mr Abdic and rebel Croatian Serbs in the pocket are not party to the ceasefire agreement, so fighting around Kladusa does not technically violate the cease-fire. It is of concern to the UN, but senior officials say both the main warring factions see Bihac as a special case and do not intend to let fighting there derail the truce.

Apart from the unusual quiet across the country, the parties have yet to make good on the promises detailed in the agreement, but General Rose and other UN officials are optimistic that they will see concrete results soon. Today's meeting in Sarajevo should enable the UN to re-open "blue routes" across Sarajevo airport to civilian traffic. One route links Sarajevo to a government-held suburb and so to central Bosnia; the other connects two Serb-held areas.

The issue has been linked to Bosnian violations of the demilitarised zone on Mount Igman, west of Sarajevo, but the UN yesterday said that government troops are leaving the area as they had promised.

In exchange, UN peace- keepers are to set up observation posts along the twisting dirt road over Igman, the only route into Sarajevo, which has come under frequent Serbian fire in the past six months.