UN commander says ceasefire is holding



Sarajevo - General Rupert Smith, the UN Bosnia commander, was said last night to be satisfied the ceasefire is holding along 80 per cent of the front line. A UN spokesman said he believed continued fighting in the north-west did not threaten the peace talks due to start later this month.

Preparations for those talks were getting under way in Moscow yesterday as envoys of the big-power Contact Group gathered to discuss their strategy for the initial US-sponsored negotiations.

There had been concern that the fighting in north-west Bosnia between government and Serb forces was making a mockery of the ceasefire. But the UN spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Vernon, said the ceasefire was holding well along the confrontation line, and that while fighting continued in the north-west, no land had been gained.

Col Vernon said Gen Smith "is happy that the ceasefire is holding along 80 per cent of the confrontation line. ... He believes the military situation on the ceasefire does not now jeopardise the overall [US envoy Richard] Holbrooke peace agreement and the proximity talks that are scheduled."

In Moscow, envoys of the Contact Group - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - mapped out their strategy for the talks on 31 October.

According to Germany, the Moscow meeting will define Russia's role in an international peace force being put together by Nato. The Russians are refusing to contribute troops if the force is solely under Nato command.

In Bosnia, Serb leaders were locked in a power struggle as the Bosnian Serb parliament, angry at battlefield losses, demanded the dismissal of generals loyal to the army commander, General Ratko Mladic. A session of parliament in the north-west town of Banja Luka accepted the resignation of the figurehead prime minister, Dusan Kozic, as a scapegoat for military defeats.

The more significant demand for the dismissal of four generals by deputies of the ruling Serb Democratic Party appeared to signal the revival of a power struggle between the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and Gen Mladic.

The call for the removal of Generals Milan Gvero, Zdravko Tolimir, Djordje Djukic and Gruja Boric followed charges by Mr Karadzic that the military were to blame for losing 11 towns and 1,500 square miles in north-west Bosnia to government and Croat troops. Last August, Mr Karadzic tried to dismiss Gen Mladic but had to back down when other generals pledged loyalty to him.

In September, Gen Mladic's supporters accused Bosnian Serb political leaders of secretly agreeing to withdrawal from those areas which the Serbs would have to give up anyway under an international peace plan.

The plan offers the Serbs 49 per cent of Bosnian territory, compared with the 70 per cent that they controlled until late this summer.

A UN refugee official said yesterday that Serb troops appeared ready to finish off a round of forced expulsions of Muslims from Serb-held areas of north-west Bosnia that was interrupted by the recent Bosnian government offensive.

The campaign, spearheaded by the notorious Serb paramilitary leader Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic, drove out thousands of Muslims from Serb-held areas around Banja Luka, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Bosanski Novi last week.