Rebel Serbs say no to eastern Slavonia deal

Erdut, Croatia (AP) - Rebel Serbs rejected terms of an agreement on ceding control of eastern Slavonia, the last part of Croatian land they hold, to the government, burdening the already complex ex-Yugoslavian peace talks with another volatile issue.

The rebels, who lost most of their territory in Croatia to the government army in May and August, are under intense pressure, with Croatian leaders warning that time is running out for a peaceful solution.

As US and UN negotiators met with the rebels at Erdut, about 120 miles east of Zagreb, to try to find a compromise, General Zvonimir Cervenko, head of the government army, speaking in Zagreb, warned: "If the eastern Slavonia question cannot be resolved peacefully, the Croatian army will cut the Gordian knot with the 1st Brigade." But the Serb negotiator, Milan Milanovic, reiterated rebel objections. He said the transition period to Croatian control must be a minimum of three years, instead of the one year offered; UN, not Nato troops, must supervise implementation; and the rebels must be given the chance to vote on autonomy in a referendum afterwards.

Left unresolved, the dispute over eastern Slavonia could derail the peace talks, scheduled to resume today in Dayton, Ohio, and lead to renewed war both in Croatia and Bosnia. But in Belgrade the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said he believed the Dayton talks would succeed, and welcomed the active role played by the US.