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UN ponders latest peace deal

As the jet carrying Jimmy Carter left Belgrade on the last leg of his Bosnian peace mission, UN officials in the former Yugoslavia considered how best to implement the ceasefire brokered (amid much scepticism) by the former US president.

Yasushi Akashi, the senior UN envoy, is to visit Sarajevo and the Bosnian Serb "capital", Pale, for talks today on the truce due to begin at noon tomorrow. Alexander Ivanko, a UN spokesman, said in Sarajevo: "Our understanding is that both sides are serious in their pursuit of an agreement on the cessation of hostilities." The Carter visit "created a certain momentum for peace"; the UN must harness this if it is to change the standard pattern in Bosnia, where cease-fires are honoured only in the breach.

The first snows of winter fell on Sarajevo and the UN "safe area" of Bihac yesterday, where fighting had intensified over the past 48 hours. Tuesday had been "probably the worst day in Bihac thus far, at least in the recent past", according to Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Coward, a UN spokesman.

Senior officers are dusting off contingency plans for the monitoring or enforcement of a truce, while civilian officials ponder how best to persuade the parties to see in 1995 with four months of peace. Under the Carter deal, a cessation of hostilities should be negotiated over the next week with the aim of reaching agreement by 1 January.

However, there seems to be some confusion over the specifics of the deal: three separate agreements were signed by Mr Carter during his stay, two with the Serbs and one with the government. "The first impression is that the agreement reached is unclear,"the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje said yesterday.

Today Mr Akashi will try to flesh out the deal - possibly, officials say, incorporating elements of a ceasefire proposal he put to the parties several weeks ago. "It kind of dovetails with Carter's, but it's not the same thing," one source said. There appears to have been some tension between UN headquarters and the former US president over the deal.

"I think it's a bit too pro-Serb," said one senior UN official not known for favouring the Bosnian government. Mr Carter did not meet Mr Akashi after his visit to Sarajevo and Pale; instead, one source said: "Carter gave him two crumpled pieces of paper and said `these are the agreements, call me tomorrow if you have any questions'."

None the less, one UN official spoke of "very good prospects" for a genuine truce. Many Sarajevans agreed with Oslobodjenje: "The whole game with Carter was calculated just as the way for Pale to escape diplomatic isolation, and the `mutual agreement' asa way to avoid the Contact Group peace plan."

But the official was more optimistic: "The Serbs have a lot at stake in these agreements. If this fails, their prospects are pretty dim, and that was made clear to them." However, on the negotiations for a political settlement scheduled during the four-month truce, "That's a whole other ball game."

Another UN source said: "Even if there is a tiny, slim chance that there will be some progress because of this, it is at the cost of delivering the Serbs an enormous propaganda coup and giving up some of the pressure on the Serbs to sign the Contact Group plan."

Pale has repeatedly rejected that proposal; now it is committed only to negotiating on the "basis" of the plan, a wording the Bosnian government refused to accept. "There is no real sign both sides are inching towards some kind of settlement," the sourc e added.