UN forced to delay Bosnia talks as West fails to agree

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The Independent Online
EMPHASISING the disarray between the United States and its European allies over what to do in Bosnia, the UN Security Council yesterday postponed a meeting of its foreign ministers, due to take place on Friday. There was 'no possibility to determine definitely the date' for the meeting because of intensive consultations between the foreign ministers, a Council statement said.

In Medugorje, in Bosnia, meanwhile, the UN peace envoy Lord Owen said the republic's Muslims and Croats agreed yesterday to stop fighting and move towards implementing the Vance-Owen peace plan. He called the agreement between Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, and the Bosnian Croat leader, Mate Boban, 'the first important step' towards carrying out the peace plan.

The decision to postpone the foreign ministers meeting - called by the Russians to discuss how to push ahead with the UN-EC-sponsored peace plan - came after the US said it would not attend. Still without a firm decision from President Bill Clinton on US policy in Bosnia, the administration is increasingly distancing itself from the plan because of lack of support for it from the Bosnian Serbs.

In an effort to keep the plan alive the Russians have been calling for its 'progressive implementation', but this could not happen without an increase in the UN forces in Bosnia, which would mean calling on US troops.

Putting a brave face on the series of delays at the UN, this month's president of the Security Council, the Russian ambassador Yuliy Vorontsov, said: 'We are looking for real ideas and we don't want to make mistakes.'

In the meantime, the Security Council will continue this week to debate draft resolutions on three new steps in Bosnia: setting up monitors on its borders to ensure that Belgrade implements its pledge to end military supplies to the Bosnian Serbs; sending troops to protect and enlarge the Muslim 'safe areas'; and setting up an international tribunal to try those accused of war crimes.

Britain would like to see action on the border monitors this week. The plan proposes about 500 guards at 48 crossing points. The purpose, said Britain's envoy Sir David Hannay, was to 'put the Belgrade authorities to the test to see whether their deeds are as good as their words'.

The resolution on safe areas is likely to take a while longer. The US is reluctant to discuss French proposals for putting extra forces into the safe areas until Washington's policy is firm. The reason, again, is that the US is being called on to provide troops.

Britain and France had also opposed the foreign ministers' meeting on Friday after agreeing it would have raised expectations that were unrealistically high.

Following the announcement that Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, would instead hold separate meetings in Washington with the Russian and French foreign ministers, Douglas Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary, was expected to hold talks with Mr Christopher in the next few days. Mr Hurd will also hold talks today with Andrei Kozyrev, his Russian counterpart, in Rome.

Lord Owen earlier yesterday made a robust defence of his plan for a Bosnian settlement as he tried to secure a ceasefire. He said that he was 'fed up with bits of paper just like confetti', as every ceasefire - or 'cessation of hostilities' - had proved to be.

His insistence that the Vance- Owen plan was the only workable one was echoed by the Danish president of the EC's council of foreign ministers, Niels Petersen, who flew into southern Bosnia with Lord Owen.

Also at the top-level meeting were Mr Kozyrev, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, President Izetbegovic and Mr Boban as was Lord Owen's new partner at the UN, Thorvald Stoltenberg.