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Kozyrev seeks to avert total war in Bosnia

ANDREI KOZYREV, the Russian Foreign Minister, on a diplomatic offensive in the former Yugoslavia, yesterday said his meetings with political leaders in Belgrade and Sarajevo would bring 'some positive spin-off'.

Faced with rejection in the Bosnian Serb referendum of the Contact Group peace plan, Mr Kozyrev sought help from President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and his Bosnian counterpart, Alija Izetbegovic, to avert the threat of all- out war in Bosnia.

Organisers of the referendum said more than 90 per cent of Bosnian Serb voters rejected the peace deal, fulfilling predictions by their leadership. 'According to almost half of the votes counted by Monday noon, the turn-out was more than 90 per cent. More than 90 per cent voted against the map,' said Petko Cancar, the Bosnian Serb election commission chief.

He said that the major powers could not ignore the high turn-out and near-unanimous response by the Bosnian Serbs. 'With this decision we are consolidating, defending and further developing our (self-styled) Republic of Srpska,' he said.

Mr Kozyrev praised Mr Milosevic's decision to cut ties with his proteges in Bosnia. 'The most important issue is that President Milosevic yesterday made it very clear that he sticks to the peace plan and that he has put all his political weight behind the peace plan,' he said in Sarajevo, after meeting Mr Izetbegovic.

Mr Kozyrev is believed to have asked the Serbian President to accept the deployment of international observers, to monitor Serbia's blockade of Bosnia, in exchange for loosening the embargo on Serbia.

A defiant stand by the Bosnian Serbs could lead to the lifting of the arms embargo on the Bosnian government, a move favoured by Washington. Mr Kozyrev criticised the desire in the United States Congress to end the weapons ban unilaterally, saying it was 'the last thing we need'.

It is not clear for how long Mr Milosevic will continue to exert pressure on the Bosnian Serbs. 'Clearly he's going to give a reasonable display of tight sanctions . . . but he can't keep it up for ever because it's going to start affecting him soon,' one UN official said.

This view is popular among the Bosnian Serbs, who are convinced that Serbia will not abandon them for long.

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