Saving Sarajevo: Hopes rise for deal on a 'union' of Bosnia: Constitutional agreement announced, but many contentious matters still unresolved

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The Independent Online
IN AN apparent breakthrough at the Bosnia peace talks, the co-chairmen last night announced a constitutional agreement to set up a 'union of republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina which will form part of an overall peace settlement'.

The announcement came after the fourth day of talks between all sides. The agreement to form a 'union' indicated a serious compromise by the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

But a brief four-paragraph statement from the co-chairmen gave few further details and it was clear that many contentious subjects, including the map of the future Bosnia, remained to be agreed.

President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, emerging from the talks, hailed the agreement and said he hoped it would bring about a peaceful solution to the war. Mr Tudjman told reporters a final draft of the agreeement could be signed tomorrow or on Monday. Diplomats following the talks remained sceptical, however, about the prospects of Muslim, Serbian and Croatian leaders reaching agreement on the outstanding issues in so short a time.

The agreement follows face-to-face negotiations between President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia and his Serbian and Croatian foes yesterday over each clause in the new peace plan. President Izetbegovic had arrived at the United Nations building in Geneva accompanied by members of the Bosnian presidency, the collective ruling body. Its members, together with government ministers, had sat up arguing late into the night in their hotel rooms over the terms put forward in a revised plan to create a 'united republic' of three ethnic states.

But the president went in on his own to the talks around a table with the two international mediators, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, the presidents of Serbia and Croatia, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Croat leader, Mate Boban.

'They are very thoroughly working through the agenda paragraph by paragraph, talking very seriously about the conditions and raising issues as they come to them,' said an official.

The document before them defined the new Bosnia as a state made up of three constituent republics. There would be one national flag but dual citizenship would be permitted.

The dual citizenship clause was likely to raise Muslim resistance, as it would in practice invite Serbs and Croats to hold passports issued by Belgrade and Zagreb, thereby creating a semblance of political union.

The document, somewhat optimistically, called for the new Bosnia to be disarmed and required any signatories to agree that none of the three republics could maintain any military force. It also dispensed with border controls between the republics and provided for the free movement of goods, services and persons.

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