Time running out on Bosnia talks: Russians delay no-fly vote

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THE BOSNIAN peace talks at the United Nations seemed to have run aground again yesterday as a normally optimistic UN official admitted, 'Time is running out.'

However, Lord Owen, who mediates the peace talks with Cyrus Vance, claimed: 'The negotiations have not yet run out of steam.' Asked whether he had personally run out of patience, Lord Owen replied: 'I've never run out of patience, much to most people's surprise, and I'm ready to keep going so long as there is serious input.'

There had been a lot of 'clarification' on several points, but not so that a successful conclusion was in view. Of the three warring parties in Bosnia, only the Croats have accepted the three-part plan that would divide Bosnia into at least 10 cantons, with a loose central government.

The Muslims and Serbs have agreed to two of the points - the constitutional principles and a ceasefire measure - but they cannot agree on the map partitioning the country.

When the new round of talks opened, the Muslim leader, President Alija Izetbegovic, presented his own version of the map for discussion. The two mediators said the map might be acceptable to all parties, but a new offensive by Serbian forces in Bosnia has kept Mr Izetbegovic from the talks. He has refused to negotiate while the offensive continues.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, is nowhere near acceptance of the original map, let alone the new one presented by the Muslims, say officials. 'Dr Karadzic's position leaves a lot to be desired,' Lord Owen said.

The Serbian leader, who has said he will leave New York tomorrow, also says he will not accept an interim government - which under the plan would rule Bosnia as the ceasefire was enforced - until the three factions have agreed on a new constitution codifying the areas gained by the Serbs in the war.

Frustrated, Lord Owen and Mr Vance, and the two most active Western allies supporting the plan - Britain and the United States - are trying last- minute manoeuvres to put pressure on the Serbs to relax their intransigent position. One tactic is to push enforcement of the no- fly zone through the Security Council because it would essentially only affect the Serbs, who have been bombing Muslim areas.

A UN Security Council vote to enforce a ban on military flights over Bosnian by Serbian planes, which was expected yesterday, was postponed at the request of the Russians. They asked for a delay to give them a chance to win over Mr Karadzic. President Yeltsin does not want to be part of any vote that would further aggravate his problems with the Russian parliament, which has sided with the Serbs on more than one occasion.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, is in Washington today and may strike a deal with the Clinton administration that would ensure US support - even funds - in return for backing a no-fly enforcement vote in the Security Council.

(Photograph omitted)