US diplomats strive to keep Bosnia talks going

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IN A further effort to prevent the break-up of the United Nations-European Community peace talks on Bosnia, the United States yesterday led a diplomatic offensive to try and keep the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, at the negotiating table in New York. While his signature on the ceasefire agreement had restored momentum to the talks, there was still the overall political package to be negotiated.

The US called an emergency meeting of the Security Council which passed a resolution that 'demanded all parties to the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina remain fully engaged' in the talks.

But the resolution did not directly charge the Serbs with responsibility for the latest attacks in the Cerska area, as the Bosnian Muslims wanted, and it was left in doubt whether President Izetbegovic would remain in New York.

Earlier, Mr Izetbegovic, who represents the Muslims in Bosnia, signed the military section of the peace plan - a ceasefire and disengagement of the forces - that has already been accepted by the other two warring factions of Serbs and Croats. Mr Izetbegovic was in part persuaded to do so because implementation of the peace plan now includes effective UN control of the heavy weapons, which Mr Izetbegovic had insisted on, and not simply monitoring as in earlier drafts.

But Mr Izetbegovic indicated that he would leave New York today - because of what he had called the 'incompatibility' between the talks and the continuing Serbian offensive against the mainly Muslim towns of Cerska and Srebrenica

Diplomats hoped that, encouraged by the support he was receiving from the US, he would now stay at least until the end of the week. However, Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen received no assurances that he would stay.

Even though President Izetbegovic has agreed to the military section, fighting is expected to continue until all three sides accept the political part of the plan that divides Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous provinces. So far, only the Croats have accepted the divisions. A spokesman for Mr Vance and Lord Owen said last night that the signing of the ceasefire was 'an essential building block' that helped 'restore momentum to the talks, but it will take more than momentum to bring the talks to a final agreement'.

The military agreement includes the withdrawal of heavy weapons - artillery and mortars - used in the conflict to designated provinces. But two of the three sides - the Muslims and the Serbs - have yet to agree on the Vance-Owen map delineating these provinces. The military agreement, therefore, cannot be implemented outside the overall political plan.

A planning group from Nato headquarters in Brussels held talks yesterday with UN peace-keeping officials in New York on the possible merger of UN and Nato forces to be used for implementing the Bosnia peace plan, should an overall agreement be reached.