UN mediator backs lifting arms embargo on Bosnia: Stoltenberg foresees an end to arms ban on Muslims

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THE UN mediator for former Yugoslavia, Thorvald Stoltenberg, said yesterday that lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims 'could be helpful' provided it was done as a result of a Security Council decision and not unilaterally.

He said he had no doubt that a border closing recently ordered by Serbia to induce the Bosnian Serbs to accept an international peace plan would be effective, although the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, had rejected the idea of border monitors.

In Sarajevo the Bosnian government and the Serbs allowed the peace process to proceed another step as the UN resumed the aid airlift into the city after winning assurances from both sides that they would stop shooting at planes. And 24 prisoners were exchanged across the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity, which marks the frontline in Sarajevo.

Thirteen Serbian prisoners, five of them soldiers, the rest branded 'civilian collaborators' by the Bosnian government, were driven from prison in Tarcin to Sarajevo in several UN armoured cars. The UN drove over Mount Igman along a road closed to commercial traffic by the Bosnian Serbs. It is the only road linking government- held territory in central Bosnia to the city and was a lifeline for Sarajevo's besieged residents and a gateway for commercial convoys. The Serbs, angered by a lack of progress on prisoner exchanges, closed the road and ambushed a UN convoy, killing another British soldier.

Hopeful relatives spent hours waiting by the bridge of Brotherhood and Unity, on the off-chance that a relative might be among those released from Kula prison in Lukavica, a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo. The long wait was punctuated by the sound of explosions and the crackle of gunfire.

One woman was in tears. 'I am waiting to see my son,' she said. 'I have not seen him since the start of the war in 1992, in Rogatica, where he was taken prisoner. The Serbs cleansed the area.'

A UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, held talks in Sarajevo with Bosnian government leaders on reducing fighting and opening up the roads into Sarajevo that were closed by the Serbian forces. After four hours of talks with the Bosnian Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, Mr Akashi said negotiations to open up the roads and resolve other disputes between the warring factions were progressing slowly. 'We must be realistic. (Although) we'd like to have rapid, radical progress . . . we expect progress step by step,' he said.

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