Serbs reject deal on Croatia

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The evacuation of dozens of wounded and sick from the Muslim enclave of Gorazde yesterday boosted hopes of peace in Bosnia, as the latest international peace initiative for Croatia fizzled out because of Serbian rejection.

More than 100 patients and their relatives were escorted out of Gorazde by peace-keepers bound for Sarajevo. Twelve Serbs left the enclave for the Serb-held town of Kopaci, but 11 Muslims refused to leave, fearing to cross Serb-held territory, a UN official said.

The medical evacuation, the first from Gorazde since last autumn, when the Bosnian Serbs banned them, was a rare expression of goodwill in implementing the truce signed on New Year's Eve. The truce has heldbut there has been no progress on political negotiations.

Hopes of a settlement between Croatia and rebellious Krajina Serbs foundered as the five international envoys charged with presenting a peace plan admitted failure. The Krajina Serb leadership, based in Knin, refused even to consider the so-called "Zagreb Four" proposal unless it received guarantees that the UN would remain in Croatia. The Croatiangoverment, frustrated at the peace-keepers' failure to re- ntegrate Serb-held areas, has told the UN to leave when its mandate expires on 31 March.

Warning of the dangers of a renewed war, the diplomats urged both sides to accept the plan, which the US and Russian ambassadors characterised as "fair". Putting the blame on the Krajina Serbs and their mentor, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Peter Galbraith, the US ambassador to Croatia, urged them to re-consider.

"The situation is rather illogical. The best way to get the UN mandate reconsidered is precisely to demonstrate pro-gress towards a peace settlement," he said.

"The best way to vindicate the arguments the Croatians have made is for the Serbs to refuse even to negotiate."

President Milosevic refused even to meet the group. The Krajina Serbs are unlikely to accept the proposal without his say-so. His stance confounds Croatian predictions that Mr Milosevic may sacrifice the Krajina Serbs and it increases the chance that a renewed conflict could involve Serbia proper.

"I'm disappointed and a bit concerned with yesterday's response," Leonid Kerestezhiants, the Russian ambassador, said. Mr Galbraith was blunter: "The situation is very dangerous," he said.

The UN will stay in Croatia if there is a peace deal to implement. But unless Zagreb changes its mind, peace-keepers will begin to withdraw in April.

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