US rejects Bosnian Serb demands

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - The US yesterday dismissed Bosnian Serb calls for new talks with the major powers, and hinted that Washington might consider lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia.

'The United States believes that's a non-starter,' said a State Department spokesman, Mike McCurry, referring to Bosnian Serb statements calling for more discussions over the division of Bosnia, outlined in a peace plan proposed by the so-called 'contact group', made up of the US, Russia, Britain, Germany and France.

'It is not now envisioned that we would reopen negotiations over matters that have been concluded by the contact group and that have . . . been agreed to by the Bosnian government,' Mr McCurry said.

The Bosnian Serb leaders said they wanted to discuss the division of Bosnia outlined in the map proposed by the contact group. 'The Republic of Srpska (the self- proclaimed Bosnian Serb republic) wishes to conduct, immediately, negotiations with the contact group on some aspects of the proposed map in order for the territorial delimitation to become entirely acceptable to the Serb side,' a statement said. It added that once changes had been agreed to the map, and agreement had been reached on constitutional arrangements to guarantee sovereignty to the Bosnian Serb republic - issues which have been the main stumbling-blocks - 'the Serbs will be ready to accept the plan'.

In Sarajevo, Serbs met their Muslim enemies to discuss reopening routes into the Bosnian capital, releasing prisoners and ending sniping. United Nations officials said the talks would show whether the Serbs wanted peace or had opted for more war. But, as officials of the two sides gathered at Sarajevo airport, two people were wounded by snipers, who fired at a tram in the city centre.

The UN said shooting during the past 24 hours had caused the death of two civilians and left six others wounded in addition to the two latest tram casualties.

'The situation remains tense, with a high level of ceasefire violations, including sniping,' said a UN spokesman, Major Rob

Annink. 'Violations seem to have extended to areas where they had not occurred up to now.' The UN hoped to restore a commercial route into Sarajevo, opened in March after Serbs, who had besieged the city for two years, withdrew heavy weapons to avert Nato air raids. It also wanted to salvage a deal, to free about 500 prisoners- of-war and get rid of snipers who shoot at civilians in Sarajevo.

The increase in tension in Sarajevo coincides with intensified international pressure on the Serbs to reconsider their rejection of the peace plan. The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, met the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, in Belgrade on Sunday to try to rescue the peace plan. Mr Kozyrev praised Mr Milosevic for coming out in support of the deal.

Mr Kozyrev said the peace plan benefited the Serbs, and he repeated international offers to lift sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro if they endorse the deal. 'The moment there is a 'yes' to the plan, then sanctions will start being suspended,' Mr Kozyrev said.

(Photograph omitted)