Serbs 'will not give up land': On the eve of talks, Karadzic dismisses EU plan and civilians' conditions worsen

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THE Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, speaking on the eve of peace talks in Geneva, said yesterday that Serbs would flatly refuse to give up more land to Muslims.

Addressing a press conference before leaving for Geneva, he said the talks, organised by the European Union, are merely an effort to force Serbs to cede more land to the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

They would not do so, he said, 'because this is our territory.' He added: 'I think it will be one big show in which the responsibility for the war will be put on the Serbs.'

Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders from Bosnia will today face the most formidable line- up of political and diplomatic heavyweights assembled for almost a year in an effort to force a settlement before winter. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, is joining his 11 European Union counterparts at the table. Presidents Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia are expected to wield influence over their Bosnian proteges and the US and Russia are sending special envoys.

But the talks are by no means guaranteed a successful outcome. Diplomats said yesterday that European policy had once again generated confusion in former Yugoslavia.

The European initiative envisages a compromise under which the Bosnian Serbs would give up sufficient territory to win Muslim assent to a settlement - in return for the relaxation of sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro.

The plan was drawn up by the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, and his French counterpart Alain Juppe. It suggests the establishment of permanent aid corridors policed by the UN and the opening of a large military airfield at Tuzla to permit airlifts of vital supplies.

It is, however, far from clear whether European governments unanimously agree with lifting sanctions on Belgrade, which faces economic collapse and hyperinflation.

The initial British reaction was a cautious statement that sanctions remained a matter for the UN Security Council. A more prominent question mark hangs over the American attitude to any such bargain.

Lord Owen, the EU mediator, recently made public his view that there are limits to international mediation, that aid may prolong the war and that the UN may consider withdrawing its troops.

The International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday issued a warning of worsening civilian conditions and continuing breaches of human rights by all sides in Bosnia- Herzegovina.

The Red Cross President, Cornelio Sommaruga, said he was also concerned that previous negotiating sessions had been accompanied by an upsurge of fighting as each side sought to strengthen its bargaining position.

Speaking on return from a visit to the former Yugoslavia, Mr Sommaruga said he had urged the three sides to avoid new offensive action, to permit aid convoys free passage and to fulfil undertakings to exchange prisoners and cease ill- treatment of detainees.

SARAJEVO - Serbian gunners lobbed a mortar shell into central Sarajevo yesterday, killing five people and wounding others, AP reports.

(Photograph omitted)