Pressures mount on Serbs for peace deal

AS DIPLOMATS intensified efforts to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to accept the international peace proposal, fighting between the warring factions increased this weekend in Sarajevo and northern Bosnia.

Russia and the influential wife of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President, added to the chorus urging the leadership in Pale to improve its response to the latest ultimatum. But on the battlefield, ceasefire violations increased dramatically.

Mirjana Markovic, the Serbian Communist leader who is often used as a mouthpiece by her husband, Mr Milosevic, pressed the President's clients in Bosnia to accept the plan, which was 'the only sign of hope and way out for the Serbs in Bosnia, and for all other nations that are at war in this region'.

Mr Milosevic is believed to have told Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, to back the plan in an attempt to end the economic embargo on Serbia. But he has refrained from any public comment, perhaps for fear of being openly defied by the Bosnian Serbs. 'Mirjana Markovic says what Milosevic thinks but it is still too early for him to come out strongly against Karadzic in public,' said a Western diplomat quoted by Reuters. 'Nonetheless, we and Karadzic get a clear message what Belgrade is thinking through her.'

Pressure is mounting on the Serbs and on the contact group (Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the United States), which must decide on on Saturday what steps to take in the face of what is, in effect, Serbian rejection of its plan.

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian special envoy, yesterday added Russian disapproval to that expressed by the West. 'Undoubtedly, the response of the Bosnian Serbs to the ultimatum, to put it mildly, can't satisfy us to the fullest extent,' he said. 'We're not wasting time, and continue working with (the Serbs) so that their final answer would be more sensible and definite.'

On Saturday his American counterpart, Charles Redman, and the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, again warned the Bosnian Serbs that Pale and Belgrade would be punished for rejecting the plan.

Sanctions would include tightening the embargo on Serbia, expanding weapons exclusion zones in Bosnia and allowing the Bosnian government to re-arm. 'If the attitude of the Bosnian Serbs hasn't changed by (Saturday) their answer will have to be taken as a 'no', with all the consequences this entails,' Mr Kinkel said. 'I call on them again to accept this plan. It is not a chance they should cast away.' Despite the diplomatic appeals, both sides traded artillery and sniper fire over the weekend. In Sarajevo, which has been relatively peaceful for five months, police closed streets in the centre because of heavy fire from snipers and heavy-machine guns.

A United Nations spokesman reported double the usual number of truce violations in the city. There was heavy fighting on Saturday along the confrontation line near the city's Jewish cemetery, and both sides reported casualties. Three people were reported to have been killed by shells in the government-held town of Tuzla, while seven civilians were wounded by Bosnian artillery in the Serb-held town of Brcko.

The United Nations also reported heavy shelling in the Bihac pocket along two fronts. To the north, the government's forces are fighting Fikret Abdic, the renegade Muslim leader, to the south, they face the Bosnian Serb army.

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