New ceasefire starts at noon

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SARAJEVO (AFP) - A ceasefire covering all Muslim and Serb forces in Bosnia will come into effect from noon today, following talks between rival commanders.

The commanders have also agreed to allow United Nations military observers and troops to enter the besieged Muslim enclave of Zepa in eastern Bosnia. Zepa, a mountain town of at least 25,000 people, has been under constant attack for four days and unofficial reports say more than 200 civilians have been killed.

The ceasefire was agreed late yesterday after several hours of talks at Sarajevo airport, brokered by the commander of UN forces in Bosnia, General Philippe Morillon. 'We have to wait a few more days to see the results, but this is certainly a step towards peace,' Gen Morillon said. UN military observers will enter Zepa this morning, to be followed by Ukrainian peacekeeping troops this afternoon.

Gen Morillon had reached agreement on Friday night with Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic on sending UN personnel into Zepa and another besieged town, Gorazde. Zepa, Gorazde, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Srebenica and Bihac have been made UN-monitored safe areas.

But Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic rejected this accord yesterday because the enclaves' defenders would be unilaterally disarmed. He said this would 'essentially amount to capitulation'.

Bosnian Army commander General Sefer Halilovic described the ceasefire as 'a step towards implementation of the Vance- Owen plan'.

In Washington yesterday, President Bill Clinton was to meet the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who has just returned from talks with European leaders, to discuss what further steps should be taken over the fighting in Bosnia. Mr Clinton has insisted there is 'a lot of agreement' between the US and its European allies, but there is no sign yet of a common front.

European governments with troops on the ground - notably France - want the US to share the burden of the humanitarian effort. Washington favours lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims - opposed by Britain - and bombing Serbian supply lines. But the latter is a non-starter as long as the rump Yugoslavia's blockade of the Bosnian Serbs, imposed last Thursday, remains in place. If the blockade is working, air strikes are pointless.

At the UN early yesterday, the Security Council said the Bosnian Serbs should accept the Vance- Owen peace plan as the only basis for peace. But most of the council's members, led by the US, rejected a stronger resolution, proposed by France and supported by Britain, which would have condemned the Bosnian Serb rejection of the plan and called on UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to prepare moves to implement it.

In Vitez, Bosnia, it was announced that Britain will control the support of all UN forces operating out of Split into central Bosnia. The move avoids duplicating the delivery of supplies and also creates a framework which can be expanded if UN forces commanded by the British-led Nato Rapid Reaction Corps move into Bosnia.