Serbs fight to avert sanctions

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE (Reuter) - Serbian leaders and the peace envoy, David Owen, struggled yesterday to avert the imposition within hours of new UN sanctions threatening Yugoslavia with economic catastrophe.

The sanctions, virtually isolating the remaining Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro from the rest of the world, were to come into effect at 5am today. Lord Owen was in Belgrade for a crisis meeting with the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic and the Yugoslav President Dorbica Cosic. They were joined after three hours by the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

The Bosnian Serb parliament was due to vote on the UN plan to divide Bosnia into 10 ethnic cantons later in the day at a session in Bijeljina in north-east Bosnia. Legislators said they would wait for Mr Karadzic to report to them but probably continue to resist an immediate decision and opt for a referendum of Bosnian Serbs which could take weeks to organise.

Mr Karadzic told the parliament that they faced an 'historic choice' - refuse to sign the Vance-Owen plan and lay themselves open to Western air attacks, or sign and 'obtain our objectives by other means'.

Lord Owen told reporters when he reached Belgrade: 'I have no new proposals. I'm not changing the plan. It is a simple question of signing the remaining documents. I profoundly hope Dr Karadzic will do so.' He indicated that the Serbs, who object to Muslims and Croats being allocated strategic, Serbian-controlled territory in north and east Bosnia, could continue to negotiate disputed areas after they signed.

In central Bosnia, Croat and Muslim forces began disengaging under UN observation yesterday after 10 days of fighting which claimed the lives of at least 250 people, UN officials said.

But artillery, machine-gun and small-arms battles between Bosnia's estranged civil war allies continued in some enclaves despite a ceasefire agreement signed on Saturday in Zagreb by the Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and the Croatian political chieftain, Mate Boban.

Fighting persisted around Jablanica and Konjic on the main humanitarian aid route from the Adriatic coast, and patrolling UN peace-keepers spotted burning homes in villages west of Vitez.