Serb atrocities under spotlight in Bosnia talks

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Bosnian Serb atrocities moved quickly to the centre stage of the Bosnian peace talks yesterday, as both the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, in effect demanded the departure of the two main Bosnian Serb leaders, both indicted for war crimes by an international tribunal.

As he left the Wright-Patterson Air Force base at Dayton, Ohio, where a news blackout has been in effect since the plenary opening session on Wednesday, Mr Christopher said that Nato was unlikely to agree to police any settlement which left in place the Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, and the top military commander, General Ratko Mladic.

The two men are considered to hold prime responsibility for the "ethnic cleansing" and massacres of Bosnian Muslim civilians, most notably after the fall of the Srebrenica "safe area" in eastern Bosnia last summer, and now around Banja Luka and Sanski Most.

Mr Izetbegovic was said on Wednesday to have told the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, who speaks for the Bosnian Serb leadership at the peace conference, that Mr Karadzic and General Mladic must be handed over to the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

These first indications give a clue to how difficult will be the negotiations ahead, as the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, along with representatives of the five-nation Contact Group, attempt to strike a deal to end the bloodiest and most destructive war in Europe since 1945. Despite a "good start" to the discussions, "vast differences" remained, Mr Christopher said.

Among the thorniest issues to be resolved are the future constitution of Bosnia, which will enshrine "two entities" in a single state, the status of the capital, Sarajevo, arrangements for elections that the US wants held within six to nine months of the war's end, and a map detailing the envisaged 51-49 split of the country between the Muslim- Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs.

All these issues are dealt with in the draft settlement presented by the Contact Group. But, said Richard Holbrooke, the chief US negotiator, just before the talks began: "I don't expect a single page to last 48 hours."

The only encouragement was a symbolic agreement between President Milosevic and his Croat opposite number, Franjo Tudjman, to resolve the dispute over Eastern Slavonia, the only sliver of Croatian territory which is still in the hands of rebel Serbs. But the extent of the understanding over the region was unclear, and President Tudjman was expected to leave for Zagreb last night.

nThe Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, said the fate of an American journalist missing in Bosnia should be raised at the talks in Dayton. David Rohde, a correspondent with the Christian Science Monitor, went missing on Sunday in Bosnian Serb territory. Clayton Jones, the newspaper's international news editor, said yesterday that the Monitor had been told by the UN that Mr Rohde was alive and being held by the Bosnian Serbs.

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