Serbs 'will sign Geneva accord'

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR Bosnian Serb leader yesterday said there was no doubt that Serbs would sign the Geneva agreement aimed at ending the war in the republic at a forthcoming emergency session of the Bosnian Serb assembly.

Nikola Koljevic, right-hand man to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb chief, said the assembly 'will endorse the plan because a big thing is at stake - the authority of Mr Karadzic. He has threatened to resign if the vote fails.' Mr Koljevic went on to say that the main sticking point for Bosnian Serbs now was securing 'a written guarantee from the conference chairmen and from the United Nations', underlining any proposed agreement.

He said the Bosnian Serb assembly, expected to convene early next week in Pale, near Sarajevo, will not accept a deal with Muslims and Croats if it is not underwritten by the international community. 'It is important we have that extra safegaurd,' he said.

Mr Koljevic conceded that the long cherished aim of creating a Greater Serbia - a 'union of Serbian states', comprising the rump Yugoslavia, most of Bosnia, and parts of Croatia, was no longer an immediate aim for Bosnia's Serbs or their allies in Belgrade. 'It is not a top priority. Securing our autonomous rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the main thing,' he said.

But he warned that by voting to accept the Geneva agreement, Bosnian Serbs were not binding themselves to respect the borders of the 10 provinces outlined on the map presented at Geneva by the two peace mediators, Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance.

And holding out a threat of further fighting to come, Mr Koljevic said Serbs were ready only to respect what he called 'non-contentious borders' between the provinces, leaving the other borders to be hammered out at a later date, after the holding of local plebiscites.

On Serbian television on Thursday, Mr Karadzic said Bosnian Serbs had no intention of giving back much territory, whatever the Vance-Owen map says. 'There are certain interests we will never abandon, such as the corridor between Sarajevo and the River Drina, because the survival of the Serbian people is at stake,' he said.

The two leaders may have been just talking tough, to soothe hardline Serbian fears of a sell-out, before the all-important vote in the Bosnian Serb assembly next week. But the statements about the borders of the provinces were an ominous reminder that even if the Serbs do endorse the Geneva agreement, fighting is unlikely to die down in the near future in any of the Bosnian war zones. Many observers believe that by signing up for the Geneva peace plan, the Serbs are only manoeuvring to gain time and evade outside military intervention.

According to the Geneva proposals, Serbs would end up with absolute control over about 45 per cent of Bosnian territory, more than their 31 per cent of the population warrants, but much less than the 70 per cent of Bosnia's territory which they now hold.

Both Muslim and Serbian hardliners have lamented that the Geneva plan spells doom for their cause. Many Serbs complain that they will be left without any cities, except Banja Luka, and without any industrial centres.

Meanwhile, a UN aid convoy yesterday was still struggling on icy lanes to reach a besieged Muslim encave at Zepa, in eastern Bosnia, where dozens of people, including children, are said to have died of cold and starvation this week. The convoy of 8 trucks carrying 50 tons of food was blocked by Bosnian Serb forces on Thursaday night at Zvornik, in eastern Bosnia, but continued the journey yesterday on a fresh route.

BRUSSELS - Nato, agreeing to take on a military mission beyond its borders for the first time, offered yesterday to organise the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Bosnia if the UN decides warplanes should be used, Reuter reports.