Russia will send envoy to Bosnia peace talks

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The Independent Online
RUSSIA told the United Nations Security Council in private session yesterday that it intends to send their own envoy to the UN negotiations on a peace plan for Bosnia. Vitaly Churkin, the number two in the Russian Foreign Ministry, is likely to get the job, according to diplomats here.

The Russian move was apparently arranged in advance with the US before President Clinton announced his own decision to send an envoy to the talks. Reginald Bartholomew, a career diplomat, will join the negotiations at the UN under the mediation of Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance.

UN diplomats welcomed the Russian move yesterday, saying it would add weight to the negotiating team with the Russians putting pressure on the Serbs and the Americans on the Bosnian Muslims to accept a peace accord.

It was not immediately clear how the US and Russian envoys would fit into the team, however. When Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, announced the appointment of Mr Bartholomew earlier this week, he said he was doing so to ensure the 'full weight of American diplomcy' was brought to bear on the three warring factions in an effort to get them to sign an accord.

Officials said Lord Owen and Mr Vance would continue as the two senior mediators in the peace talks, with the envoys from the US and Russia as support staff.

Mr Churkin, a career diplomat who speaks excellent English, became a star in the US during the Chernobyl disaster, when he appeared on Capitol Hill to be quizzed by anxious Congressmen. He became the Foreign Ministry's spokesman before the 1991 coup that toppled the Communists.

Mr Bartholomew is in Moscow this weekend for talks with Russian officials, and he and Mr Churkin are expected to fly to New York on Monday to take part in the continuing negotiations.

Now that the US has finally joined in - after a long policy review - diplomats at the UN were more optimistic that the peace talks could bear fruit. Thus far, the Bosnian Croats are the only ones who have agreed to the Vance-Owen plan to divide Bosnia into 10 cantons with a loose central government. The Serbs and the Muslims are holding out.

In the former Yugoslavia, the UN aid chief threw down a gauntlet to Bosnian Serbs yesterday with a pledge to force through food convoys to a string of Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia under Serbian siege.

Painting a terrifying picture of starvation and disease facing up to 200,000 trapped Muslims in the enclaves, Jose Maria Mendiluce, chief of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the region, said UN convoys to all the enclaves would roll next week, with or without Serbian permission.

'We cannot leave any more time. People are dying and suffering in enormous numbers,' he said. Mr Mendiluce delivered the stark announcement after city leaders in Sarajevo said they would boycott UN aid packages until the organisation succeeded in getting relief through to the enclaves. Some have received no aid in 10 months of warfare in Bosnia. 'We cannot accept any more of these obstacles which are causing thousands of people to be killed,' Mr Mendiluce said.

The international aid agency sent a letter to Radovan Karadzic urging the Bosnian Serb leader 'to intervene to allow food convoys to all Muslim enclaves'.

Mr Mendiluce said the food situation in the half dozen enclaves of eastern Bosnia was drastic, but added that the shortage of medicines was even worse. 'There is a total lack of medical supplies, and an enormous number of people wounded in shelling and sniping are being treated in impossible conditions,' he said.

In 10 months of fighting only three aid convoys have reached the Muslim enclave at Srebrenica, where a peacetime population of 30,000 has more than doubled to about 70,000 after an influx of refugees from villages overrun by Serbs.

Meanwhile, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, threatened to pull all peace-keepers out of Croatia unless its forces withdrew from areas they have occupied in the past month. Lord Owen, the EC envoy, said peace talks between Croats and Serbs would resume next week.