Serbs plan to barter Sarajevo for enclaves

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serb leaders indicated yesterday that they would accept a peace settlement that involved handing over Serb-held parts of Sarajevo to the Muslim-led Bosnian government in exchange for Serbian control of three Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia. However, the Bosnian Serbs are demanding the right to secede from Bosnia, a condition that the Muslims and the major leading Western powers seem likely to reject.

The Bosnian Serb proposals, which are not yet a formal negotiating position, centre on two strategically important suburbs of Sarajevo - Ilidza and Vogosca - that are in Serbian hands. In return for handing them back to the Bosnian government, the Serbs expect to receive Gorazde, Srebrenica and Zepa, three Muslim pockets surrounded by Serbian forces in eastern Bosnia.

The latest Bosnian Serb initiative emerged after a Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, held talks in Belgrade with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Bosnian Serb leaders. 'The Bosnian Serbs are thinking about clarifying their response to the contact group,' Mr Churkin said, referring to the group of four Western countries and Russia that have proposed a compromise peace to end the 27-month-old Bosnian war.

The Bosnian Serbs last week raised objections to the proposed settlement, which would divide Bosnia between the Serbs and a Muslim-Croat federation, but which would preserve the republic as a single entity for international purposes. The Bosnian Serbs' response has raised the prospect of increased Nato military pressure against them.

To head off Nato action, Russian officials are pressing the Bosnian Serbs to make concessions, but the Bosnian Serbs are insisting on the right to keep their own state and one day to merge with Serbia. The Muslim- Croat federation regards this demand as sufficient cause to withdraw its own acceptance of the international peace plan.

United Nations officials repeated yesterday that if fighting escalates in Bosnia the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, might recommend UN withdrawal. Mr Boutros Ghali sent a letter to this effect to the Security Council at the weekend.

Yesterday, Marrack Goulding, Under- Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the so-called 'contact group' - United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain - which sets security policy in Bosnia was considering 'much more muscular use of air power', and that if these plans were implemented, this would 'in our judgement expose UN personnel to unacceptable risk'. There had already been difficulties in co-ordinating air power, Mr Goulding said, and these could be 'magnified several times' in the event of an escalation of attacks.