UN peace talks target Serbs' heavy weapons

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The Independent Online
THE NEW round of United Nations negotiations on the Bosnia peace plan opened yesterday with Western diplomats pessimistic about prospects of a breakthrough this week, and with further indications of a creeping US involvement in any permanent peace.

Western diplomacy, especially that organised from Washington, is concentrated on persuading the President of Bosnia and Muslim representative, Alija Izetbegovic, to accept a greater role by the US, going beyond the air-drops of aid and into command of forces on the ground, enabling him to sign the plan put forward by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance. Of the three warring parties, that would leave only the Serbs holding out because the Croats have already agreed to the plan that would divide Bosnia and Herzegovina into 10 semi-autonomous provinces.

However, Mr Izetbegovic did not appear to be in a positive mood. He complained that new offensives from the Serbs were 'incompatible' with progress in the peace talks. In an effort to move him, Lord Owen and Mr Vance issued a statement, as mediators of the talks, deploring the new attacks and casualties 'especially affecting the beleaguered Muslim population'.

The focus of yesterday's talks was the peace plan's measures to remove the heavy weapons - artillery and mortars, most of which are in Serb hands - to safe havens out of range. For reassurance, Mr Izetbegovic would like the US, which has been using its diplomatic forces to nurse the Bosnian Muslims back to the negotiating table, to be involved in the removal and monitoring of those weapons.

The most obvious way this could happen would be for Nato to become involved, and today Nato planners arrive at the UN to discuss joint operations with an increased UN force on the ground in Bosnia. The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, is also here today, seeing the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and discussing the UN-Nato co-op eration.

It is generally accepted here that Nato forces would initially reinforce the poorly equipped UN command and control headquarters. There is a delicate high-wire act going on between UN and Nato officials trying to work out how those Nato forces, which are under Nato's American supreme commander, would integrate with the UN forces, now under a French general.

If and when that is resolved, a slippery slope appears on which military control of an enlarged UN-approved force for implementation of any peace plan passes to an American general.

The problem is that Mr Izetbegovic has not yet agreed on the map delineating the new provinces, so it is hard to see how he could agree to spots where the heavy guns and mortars might be parked. Negotiations on the map divisions, which have been presented by Lord Owen and Mr Vance as flexible, were expected to continue until today when they will be joined by the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic. Western diplomats hope the Russian envoy to the talks, Vitaly Churkin, a deputy foreign minister, will nudge Mr Karadzic towards agreement.

If military intervention is required in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it 'must be sooner rather than later', Turkey's senior military commander said in London yesterday. If UN-backed forces are sent in to enforce and monitor the plan under discussion in New York, Turkey will definitely take part, he said.

General Dogan Gures, Turkey's Chief of Defence Staff, said the Balkans were central to European security and that 'protective measures' needed to be taken in Kosovo, Sandjak and Vojvodina to prevent a spill-over of the conflict. Gen Gures said the Serbs had occupied one-third of Croatian territory and three-quarters of Bosnia, and that the arms embargo favoured the Serbs.

If military intervention did not take place soon, 'then at least the arms embargo should be lifted and humanitarian aid increased', he said.