Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Serbs agree to attend ceasefire talks

SARAJEVO - Bosnian Serbs, after lifting restrictions on UN military observers, declared yesterday they were ready to join UN-sponsored ceasefire talks this week.

UN sources in Sarajevo said Serbian commanders, in a goodwill gesture, agreed to allow observers to patrol freely in a Nato-backed heavy-weapons exclusion zone around the Muslim town of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia. Serbian forces earlier hampered the observers in defiance of a local truce agreed when they halted an offensive against Gorazde last month under threat of Nato air strikes.

The UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, has called leaders of warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims to Geneva on Thursday and Friday for talks on a comprehensive ceasefire to end 26 months of fighting in Bosnia. UN sources said that international mediators believed the foes could be prepared to sign a four-month, Bosnia-wide ceasefire.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said Serbs would attend the talks without their previous condition that sanctions imposed on their sponsors, Serbia and Montenegro, must be lifted.

But he indicated that talks on an overall settlement in Bosnia, including how to divide up the republic between the warring parties, could not resume until the international community made some concessions on sanctions.

'We will not pose preconditions for talks on a cessation of hostilities themselves, but the conference cannot begin until something is done with sanctions, that pressures and threats by the international communiity cease,' he said.

Mr Karadzic, speaking at a news conference in Novi Said, Serbia, appeared to be referring to a resumption of full peace talks under the Geneva-based International Conference on former Yugoslavia.

The Serbs attended informal talks with an international 'contact group' of mediators in France last week on possible ways to divide up Bosnia and seem prepared to attend a second round on 6 and 7 June.

The mediators propose a 51-49 per cent split, with the larger part going to Bosnia's new Muslim-Croat federation.