Leaders inch towards accord on Bosnia map

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The Independent Online
GENEVA (AFP, Reuter) - The Croatian and Bosnian presidents, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic, held talks yesterday on a proposed map of the future state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, aligning their positions on several points, said Fred Eckhard, the Geneva peace conference spokesman.

'Their positions have been evolving throughout the day and are getting gradually closer,' he said after five hours of talks attended by the conference co- chairmen, Cyrus Vance for the United Nations, and Lord Owen for the European Community.

The two leaders are to resume their talks today in preparation for another meeting planned for Saturday to be attended by all three parties involved in the Bosnian conflict: the Bosnian Croats, the Serbs and the Muslims.

The United Nations Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is due to chair today's talks with Presidents Tudjman and Izetbegovic and the President of the rump state of Serbia and Montenegro, Dobrica Cosic.

Mr Tudjman and Mr Izetbegovic held a detailed discussion on the provinces' possible borders, taking ethnic and economic factors into account, Mr Eckhard explained, adding that the stated aim of Mr Vance and Lord Owen was to 'avoid a crude ethnic division of Bosnia-Herzegovina' into three blocks as the Bosnian Serbs have demanded.

Lord Owen and Mr Vance have invited the leaders of the Croatian, Serbian and pro-government communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina to submit maps contributing to the creation of a republic with about 10 autonomous regions under a loose central authority based in Sarajevo.

While the peace talks were under way, Sarajevo Radio reported that Bosnian Serb forces fired two surface-to-surface missiles into the besieged northern Muslim town of Gradacac. It said a second Luna missile hit the town at 10am amid heavy shelling and an infantry assault. The first missile struck at 7.30am. The radio said it was not known if there were casualties.

Serbian forces have intensified attacks on Gradacac and on joint Muslim and Croatian lines around nearby Serb-held Brcko. Both towns lie within a vulnerable Serbian corridor across northern Bosnia linking Serbia with areas of Croatia now controlled by ethnic Serbs.

British United Nations troops in Bosnia came under mortar fire twice within hours on Saturday, an army spokesman said. In the first attack, near the eastern town of Tuzla, one officer and two civilians were wounded. The second attack took place on a road dubbed 'Bomb Alley' near the eastern town of Kladanj.

Serbian forces fired three mortar bombs at a convoy of four British Warrior armoured troop carriers, the spokesman said. There were no casualties. 'Everybody who goes down that road is running on a tightrope,' said one British officer.

Bosnia has rejected a plea to evacuate 1,500 people from its capital, Sarajevo, saying the plan brokered by Lord Owen was based on ethnicity. 'This was a scheme based on black sheep and white sheep and sheep of a third colour and we rejected it,' said Bosnia's Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, yesterday.

However, a United Nations official scheduled to discuss the plan with Bosnian government officials yesterday was optimistic that the evacuation might still go ahead. Lord Owen, who visited Sarajevo last week, asked the Bosnian government to permit three groups of 500 people from each of the country's main population groups - Muslims, Serbs and Croats - to leave Sarajevo over the Christmas holidays as a gesture of goodwill. The plan originated with rebel Serbs besieging the city.