Major says Bosnia peace must not fail

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic Editor



John Major called on the international community yesterday to take the tough decisions needed to make it "unthinkable" for anyone to drag Bosnia back into the abyss of war.

Opening a two-day Peace Implementation Conference in London, attended by more than 50 countries and organisations, the Prime Minister said people all over Europe were watching their deliberations.

He told the warring parties, whose foreign ministers were also present, that a 60,000-strong Nato force and a huge international aid effort stood ready to help them entrench the peace settlement next year.

"Many of the faces I see around this table I saw around this table five months ago," Mr Major said. "We met then against a sombre and menacing background." Mr Major was referring to the last London Conference in July, which marked the turning point in Western resolve to use air power against the Bosnian Serbs.

Mr Major said the conference had to take the decision that the "very hard won" and "fragile" peace in Bosnia would not fail.

The conference is intended to put into practice the accord reached in Dayton, Ohio, last month under which Serbs, Muslims and Croats agreed to end the fighting in Bosnia. The accord will be formalised at a ceremony in Paris next week.

The ministers were expected to agree on the nomination of the former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bildt, to the post of High Representative to oversee the political and civilian reconstruction effort.

Behind the scenes, however, an unedifying squabble was in progress over the allocation of high-profile jobs and political authority in the year ahead.

France and the United States are in dispute about the choice of the head of the mission to supervise elections in Bosnia under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). France and other EU states are unhappy about the choice of an American diplomat, Robert Frowick, and want a European to get the post.

There is also a lower-key disagreement between Washington and Paris over the safeguards available to the Serb population of those suburbs of Sarajevo which are due to pass into the hands of the Muslim-led government.

Britain believes the urgent necessity is to organise the deployment and command of the 20,000 US troops who will join British and French units to form the backbone of the Implementation Force (I-For).

After the experience of tangled lines of authority in the ill-fated United Nations mission, all key governments are determined to keep the command structure clear.

Yesterday also saw the effective burial of the International Conference on former Yugoslavia, which operated from the UN headquarters in Geneva. The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was on hand to preserve a facade of dignity at theproceedings but he and his officials will play no further part in the politics of the year ahead.

There was extensive backstage negotiation in London yesterday over the future of Eastern Slavonia, the last region of Croatia still controlled by separatist Serbs. The Serbs are due to hand over to control to an international authority and yield sovereignty to Croatia after two years. But details of the agreement remain in dispute and the region remains a potential cause of a new war.

Many ministers at the conference had flown in from an OSCE meeting in Budapest, where the row about Mr Frowick emerged. Foreign ministers of the 53 participating countries agreed to assume responsibility for overseeing and monitoring elections, monitoring human rights and drawing up arms control agreements.

The OSCE role, which was outlined in the peace accord in Dayton, Ohio, marks a leap forward for the organisation, which grew out of the East- West forum that brokered the 1975 Helsinki Act. It includes the US and Russia. With only a small secretariat in Vienna, OSCE members admit they view the coming challenge with trepidation.