Mostar deal offers crumb of hope for Bosnia peace talks

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

TONY BARBER

East Europe Editor

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, will travel to Dayton, Ohio, today to see a deal signed between Bosnia and Croatia that could be the first concrete achievement of the nine-day old summit talks .

Presidents Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia were reported last night to have initialled an agreement to reunite the divided city of Mostar, provide for the return of some refugees and generally shore up the wobbly federation between the two countries.

The accord is a welcome sign of progress in the talks, held amid a virtual media blackout at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton. There were hopes of movement last night as US mediators presented Serb, Croat and Bosnian delegations with documents intended to form the basis of a final settlement.

The UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague chose yesterday to announce that it was charging three Serb officers with involvement in the massacre of 261 men near Vukovar in Croatia in 1991. The most senior is General Mile Mrksic, commander of Krajina Serb separatist forces in Croatia until the Croat victories of last August.

The UN tribunal has already charged the Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, with war crimes, a factor complicating the Ohio negotiations. The latest indictments could be equally sensitive as they indicate that the tribunal suspects the hand of President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia behindatrocities such as the Vukovar slaughter of November 1991.

"It is the first time ever that the word Belgrade is to be found in an indictment," a spokesman, Christian Chartier, said. "This indictment is a clear illustration of the prosecutor's strategy to go as high as possible up the chain of command."

The Ohio talks ran into trouble last weekend partly because of Mr Milosevic's complaint that the Muslim-led Bosnian government, supported by the US, was refusing to sign a peace accord unless he secured the dismissal of Messrs Karadzic and Mladic. The sting could be taken out of this issue if the two men agree not to seek public office after the war but confine themselves to lesser-ranking positions in the territory allocated to the Bosnian Serbs.

The war crimes row is only one of several disputes over post-war territorial, constitutional and political arrangements. The latest proposals are assumed to cover the division of Bosnian land between the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation, the status of Sarajevo and the powers and make- up of future central institutions.

If the talks succeed, President Bill Clinton hopes to send a 60,000-strong Nato force to Bosnia to patrol a settlement, although the Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to prohibit Mr Clinton from sending troops without the approval of Congress.

Diplomats hope the return to Dayton of Mr Tudjman could presage progress on the future of Eastern Slavonia, the last slice of Croat territory in rebel Serb hands. Talks on the region, where the Vukovar massacre occurred, broke down last weekend. Both sides agree Eastern Slavonia should be put under temporary international supervision, but the Croats want the transition to last a year, while the Serbs have asked for three.

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