Key Bosnia peace talks set to go ahead today

The American peace initiative in Bosnia was reignited last night after all the parties involved in the conflict agreed to meet in New York today to try to adopt a detailed constitutional framework for the Bosnian state.

A threat by the Bosnian government to boycott the New York negotiations was withdrawn at a hastily scheduled meeting of the foreign ministers of the Sarajevo government and of Croatia and the Yugoslav Republic with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.

Afterwards, Mr Christopher held out the hope that the foreign ministers would end today's meeting with a "set of concrete principles" on establishing the constitutional arrangements for Bosnia once peace is achieved.

If the talks succeed, they will mark a crucial step forward in the peace process that is being shepherded by the US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, and which was formally launched in Geneva on 8 September.

In Geneva, the parties agreed in principle that Bosnia would remain a single state, but that it would be divided in roughly equal halves between a Croat-Muslim federation and a new Bosnian Serb entity.

Today's talks are to be chaired by Mr Holbrooke and attended by senior officials from the Contact Group of countries sponsoring the political negotiations, including Britain. Mr Christopher said that he hoped in particular that agreement would be reached on the "connective tissues" between the two halves of Bosnia.

The Sarajevo government had been promising to stay away from the meeting because it believed that a first draft of the constitution to be discussed today would open the door to the Serb half of the country becoming so closely allied to Belgrade as to allow a de facto Greater Serbia to emerge.

Mr Christopher declined to offer any detail on how feelings in Sarajevo had been soothed. Two members of Mr Holbrooke's negotiating team made an urgent call on the Sarajevo government early yesterday, after which it became clear that the threat of a Bosnian boycott of the process had been lifted.

Several times yesterday, however, the Secretary of State repeated that the US would not accept any final settlement that did not leave Bosnia intact as a single nation within its existing international borders. "The US would oppose any attempt to undermine the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single state," he told journalists.

US officials hope that the talks, being held on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, will be successfully completed today. Further discussions between the parties are likely here tomorrow. Thereafter, however, Mr Holbrooke and his team will return to the Bosnia region, on the instructions of President Bill Clinton, who was kept briefed on developments.

Mr Christopher served notice to the warring parties that the US expected the fighting in Bosnia would have to stop in the next few days.

The Russian government, meanwhile, said it was planning to propose sending soldiers to the peace implementation force envisaged for Bosnia if the talks finally succeed, but only on condition that the command of the force alternates between Nato and Russian generals.

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