Serb concessions may halt slide to war in Croatia

Bosnian Serb forces shelled the outskirts of the medieval Croatian city of Dubrovnik yesterday, killing three people, in retaliation for Croatian shelling of the Serb town of Drvar in north-west Bosnia.

The artillery exchange heightened fears the Croatian army would strike at the heart of the Serb-held lands south of Zagreb within 48 hours.

About 100,000 Croatian troops, most of them regulars, have been at full readiness for almost a week. Reservists have been mobilised in areas close to UN Sectors North and South, the main areas of land held by the secessionist Krajina Serbs, ready to reinforce troops in the event of an offensive.

"While clearly surprise is no longer a significant issue, the longer [the Croats] sit without a decision, the better prepared the Krajina Serb defensive plans should be," one UN officer said. There is also the risk of a Bosnian Serb counter-attack to retake the towns of Glamoc and Bosansko Grahovo in western Bosnia, which fell last week to the Croatians, severing a vital supply route to Krajina Serb headquarters in Knin. In Belgrade and Geneva diplomatic efforts were under way to deflect the protagonists. The US ambassador to Zagreb, Peter Galbraith, won concessions which may prevent the outbreak of full-scale war between Croatia and its rebel Serbs.

Milan Babic, the leader of the Krajina Serbs, said he agreed to make concessions after a tense two-hour meeting with Mr Galbraith in Belgrade on Wednesday night. These included a guarantee to withdraw all Krajina Serb troops from the Bihac pocket, where they had been fighting Bosnian Muslim forces. It is understood that the US will now try to persuade President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia to call off his planned attack on the Serbs. Britain was last night urging Mr Tudjman to respond to the Krajina Serb offer and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany was also seeking to contact the Croatian President.

Mr Galbraith said the Serbs agreed to negotiate on the "reintegration" of their breakaway region with Croatia - a dramatic change of attitude on the part of the hardline Krajina Serbs. The move followed a day in which senior government figures in Belgrade made it clear that Serbia was resolved not to be dragged into war on behalf of the Krajina Serbs.

The US envoy flew to Belgrade on Wednesday to warn Mr Babic his forces faced "obliteration" at the hands of 100,000 Croatian troops massed to reclaim the Krajina border country. He told Mr Babic the US could act only if the Serbs issued a five-point statement agreeing, in effect, to give in to Croatia's key war aims. Mr Babic obliged yesterday saying he was ready to "stand down and demobilise" Krajina Serb forces and to pull them out of Bihac.

The key point for Croatia was that he also agreed to negotiate a political settlement with Zagreb on the basis of the so-called "Z4 Plan". Devised by western diplomats, this assumes Croatian sovereignty over all the disputed region. Croatia may argue that Mr Babic's acceptance of it constitutes de facto recognition of Croatian rule.

Mr Babic also accepted the deployment of UN peace-keepers along the international border between Croatia and Bosnia. He agreed to reopen a vital oil pipeline and to negotiate the reopening of rail links.

Mr Babic is understood to have told Western diplomats that he will be able to convince most of his supporters that they have no alternative but to accept the US-brokered proposals. Knin's forces are heavily out- gunned by the Croatian army, which has bought and built tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery despite the UN arms embargo.

President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia is unlikely to bale out his clients militarily. Some covert Serbian aid is almost certainly reaching the Krajina Serbs but probably not on the scale that would tip the balance in their favour and scupper Mr Milosevic's campaign to end the economic embargo on rump Yugoslavia. Many observers believe Mr Milosevic and Mr Tudjman have an understanding that Zagreb may pursue its goal of recapturing Sectors North and South if Belgrade is allowed to annex Sector East, the fertile farmland and oilfields close to the Serbian border.

Mr Milosevic failed to help the Krajina Serbs in May when the Croatians seized Serb-held western Slavonia in a two-day offensive, an operation that boosted the confidence of the Croatian army and hardened Mr Tudjman's resolve to retake Krajina. "If the rebel Serbs reject the reintegration of the occupied territories Croatia will be forced to undertake the most severe measures to prevent attacks on the Bihac 'safe area'," Mr Tudjman said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'