Serb chief hints at deal with Croats to carve up Bosnia

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GENEVA - The leader of Bosnia's Serbs hinted yesterday at a deal to carve up the republic with the Croats as a fresh round of international peace talks failed even to get all the warring factions round one table.

The remarks by Radovan Karadzic appeared to confirm that his forces, who control some 70 per cent of Bosnia, were seeking an accommodation with the Croats at the expense of the Muslims, the largest community in the former Yugoslav republic.

They cast further gloom over the latest peace attempt by United Nations and European Community mediators, already sceptical over their chances of ending the fighting in Bosnia.

'They are going into the bilateral discussions this morning with more determination than optimism,' a UN spokesman said as the talks began in Geneva.

Bosnia's Muslim Foreign Minister, Haris Silajdzic, told reporters he had no mandate to sit down with Mr Karadzic and his delegation. Muslims regarded them as 'war criminals who have committed systematic atrocities', he said.

Arriving for a meeting with the mediators and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, Mr Silajdzic said news had just reached him of a Serbian massacre of 200 Muslim prisoners in the town of Foca.

'So we are going to have to talk with (Mrs) Ogata about the release of the prisoners from the (Serbian) concentration camps because it is obvious now that the aggressor wants their physical annihilation,' he said.

As reports from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, said fighting continued there and around other Muslim strongholds, Mr Karadzic said he was ready to meet the other factions at any time. The Serbian leader said he was ready for talks with the Bosnian Croatians on a ceasefire and a division of territory and accused the Muslims, who lead the government in Sarajevo, of refusing to discuss an end to the five-month conflict.

Mr Karadzic said he had come to Geneva to help end the fighting and bring aid to suffering civilians, but the harsh tones in which he spoke of the Muslims gave little hint of compromise.

In one theatrical gesture, he opened a briefcase and took out what he said were foreign supplies captured from Muslims, including Nato smoke-bombs, Arab mortars, Argentine cartridges, an East German grenade launcher and even a Nato packed lunch.

Mr Karadzic accused Islamic nations, including Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, of aiding the Muslims, including sending up to 3,000 fighters, and warned that 'Christian' countries, which he did not name, could soon come to the aid of the Serbs.

A key issue in the peace talks has been the future constitution of Bosnia, with the Serbs pressing for three separate states - demands repeated by Mr Karadzic yesterday - and the Muslims insisting on a single country.