Sarajevo 'reassured' by US peace plan

Sarajevo (AFP) - Both the Bosnian government and the separatist Serb forces it is fighting showed interest in pursuing a US-backed peace plan yesterday.

Fears that the plan required Bosnia to give up the last of its three eastern enclaves were calmed by the US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Holbrooke, after talks in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. In Sarajevo, Bosnia's Foreign Minister, Muhamed Sacirbey, said he was reassured.

"Ambassador Holbrooke asked me to state to the press categorically that the US is not pressuring our government to give up Gorazde, and of course we have said we will not," said Mr Sacirbey, who met Mr Holbrooke late on Tuesday in Split, Croatia.

"What we will work on is how to make Gorazde more practical in terms of military, economic and political considerations," he said.

There had been reports that the plan would call for Gorazde to be swapped for Serb-held territory around the capital Sarajevo, but President Alija Izetbegovic said on Sunday that Bosnia would keep Gorazde even if it had to "wage war for 15 years" to do so.

The peace plan under consideration has not been publicly detailed, but some reports say it would call for the division of Bosnia, with one portion confederating with Serbia and the other with Croatia.

Meanwhile the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, was said to be optimistic that a peace deal could be worked out soon and indicated a willingness to soften his own stance to achieve a settlement. The Belgrade weekly Telegraf quoted Mr Karazdic as saying that a "new peace conference could be ready by the end of the month and the peace could be signed in September".

Bosnian Serbs have said they were unwilling to accept a plan drawn up by the five-nation Contact Group because it gives them only 49 per cent of the nation's territory, much less than the 70 per cent they hold. But the Serbs have recently come under the first military pressure in the war this year, losing most of their territory in Croatia and areas around the north-western Bosnian city of Bihac.