Saving Sarajevo: Izetbegovic told to 'face reality' and cut deal: Bosnian Muslim leader comes under pressure in Geneva from UN and EC mediators who say he cannot count on foreign intervention

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN President, Alija Izetbegovic, came under intense pressure to agree to a settlement yesterday as leaders of Muslim, Serbian and Croatian factions entered their second day of bargaining to end the war in Bosnia.

Mr Izetbegovic, heading the mainly Muslim government, was bluntly told by the two mediators, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, that he should face the fact that no foreign intervention would take place and cut a deal with his Serbian and Croatian enemies. He and his aides arrived in Geneva with a modified version of their plan for a federal state but, according to a source close to the talks, they were briskly told by Lord Owen to 'face reality'.

The Presidents of Serbia and Croatia, together with their respective allies in Bosnia, argued for a loose confederation of three ethnically defined states governed by a weak central authority. That arrangement for a post- war Bosnia is now being urged upon the government.

The Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, emerged from the talks to say 'hard' bargaining had taken place and 'we are approaching a solution to many vital questions'. He said he would return for a third session of talks today.

A stark message of military reversal was spelt out to Mr Izetbegovic, who faces pressure from commanders keen to fight on and capitalise on recent successes against the Croats. Western military advisers are understood to have told the Muslims that while they may retain key centres around Sarajevo, outlying towns are increasingly vulnerable to Serbian attack and cannot be sustained.

The Bosnian Foreign Minister, Haris Silajdzic accused the negotiators of forcing the Muslim side to accept a plan 'that legitimises aggression and ethnic cleansing'.

Although Mr Silajdzic created much sound and fury around the fringes of the conference, it was a weary looking President Izetbegovic who sat through more than five hours of talks with his foes. By lunchtime yesterday, conference sources were reporting that the discussions had progressed to an examination of maps prepared to show the boundaries of the new states.

Different versions of the maps were circulating in Geneva yesterday but it now appears that the Muslim statelet in central Bosnia would be offered two internationally guaranteed corridors through hostile land. One would descend to a port on the Adriatic and another would lead north to Croatia. 'It reminds one of the geography of the 1930s', said a diplomat following the talks, 'the Polish corridor, Danzig and all that sort of thing. One wonders how long it could work.'

While the Muslims were being urged to come to terms with military defeat, the negotiators were also keen to provide incentives for Mr Izetbegovic to settle. He is said to have been promised large amounts of aid from Saudi Arabia and the European Community, while Serbia and Croatia are likely to remain economically ruined after the war. Sources say he has also been told that the United States is willing to send troops as part of a force to oversee a settlement.

The American special envoy, Reginald Bartholomew, and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Vitaly Churkin, hovered in the ante-chambers to the conference, reinforcing the message that the Muslims need expect no American military help and the Serbs no Russian support if the conflict continues.

By late afternoon Lord Owen and his fellow mediator retired from the discussions, leaving all sides in the war alone to face each other in the conference room. Drinks were broken out from the hospitality cupboard provided by the United Nations.

(Photograph omitted)

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