The frigate will be a few miles off the Dalmatian coast when a Serbian and a Croatian general will sail out to her for a meeting chaired by Major General David Cranston, the deputy head of the European Community observers' mission. Avenger is in the Adriatic as Britain's contribution to a Nato-Western European Union mission to monitor compliance with the UN trade embargo against Serbia and Montenegro.
'This is a real glimmer of hope,' a British diplomat declared. 'This could resolve the last bit of fighting going on in Croatia, which is in the Dubrovnik area.' After today's round, further talks will be held at venues chosen alternately by the two sides.
But the spectre of military intervention in Bosnia - fiercely resisted by Britain - was raised again yesterday when the US circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution to Britain and France that would authorise force to protect relief aid.
British diplomatic sources revealed that the US had been discouraged two weeks ago from proposing the resolution. 'We told them it was an interesting idea but it would not work in the real world,' said a British diplomat. 'If you attach force to humanitarian aid, all the humanitarian organisations - the UNHCR, the ICRC, Save the Children, you name it - will pull out.'
John Bolton, US Assistant Secretary of State for international organisations, raised the resolution openly yesterday ahead of the Geneva conference on the Yugoslav humanitarian crisis.
'We would support a Security Council resolution to authorise the use of all necessary means to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance,' he said. 'We're in consultations on the subject right now.'
The rift over the resolution highlights yet again Britain's reluctance not only to send its troops into a conflict that promises to be a quagmire, which the Government says public opinion would not tolerate, but also its desire to restrain any of its allies from doing so, given its determination to have a key say in European defence matters.
Instead, Britain is emphasising the importance of the conference it is sponsoring in London next month, probably on August 26-28, which will bring together the UN, the EC, James Baker, the US Secretary of State, and parties involved in the fighting.
Milan Panic, the Yugoslav Prime Minister, will hold talks with John Major in London today on Britain's plans for the international conference.
In Bonn yesterday Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, said the conference must consider more radical measures. 'We will have to consider very precisely what we can additionally do: perhaps further embargo measures, an even stronger strangulation of Serbia,' he told a German newspaper. This would include the expulsion of Serbia from all international organisations and an end of the protection of Belgrade by Russia, widely suspected of supplying oil to the Serbs, despite UN sanctions.
In London, Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Foreign Minister, said after EC talks he attended yesterday that negiotations were only serving to prolong the killing. 'We refused to be shoved or starved into any kind of agreement,' he told a news conference. 'We are not prepared to go on indefinitely talking when the result is 50,000 people killed and up to a third of the population expelled.'
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