LONDON — After months of European inertia in developing a response to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Britain is now taking diplomatic action.
The government announced it will spearhead a two-pronged attempt to curb ethnic violence and to try to avert its spread to other parts of the country.
Following the opening July 27 of talks in London, sponsored by the European Community and involving representatives of the three warring factions in Bosnia, Prime Minister John Major plans to call a special international conference in the British capital toward the end of August.
British diplomatic sources said that at the conference, Mr. Major would propose the creation of an international tribunal that would work with Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to monitor human rights in the former Yugoslav republics.
Britain has also reversed its position on establishing safe havens for refugees in Yugoslavia and now supports the idea. The plan would
be patterned on last year's United Nations-sponsored arrangements to create safe havens for Kurds in Iraq.
British sources said Major would invite the UN, the United States, and European countries to the August conference, along with delegations from the former Yugoslav republics.
The planned gathering would be co-chaired by Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary, and Lord Carrington, the chief European Community negotiator, a British official said.
The British initiative is part of a complex series of diplomatic moves currently under way to take the heat out of the crisis.
Senior United Nations officials in Zagreb, Croatia reported on July 27 that Serb irregulars had blackmailed them into shipping Muslims out of Bosnia, and warned that if this continues, 400,000 more refugees could be on the way.
The warnings came ahead of an international conference in Geneva on July 29 on how to deal with Europe's biggest refugee disaster since World War II.
Baroness Chalker, Britain's overseas development minister, said the Geneva meeting would "provide an opportunity for the international community to make concrete proposals to tackle the immense humanitarian problems in the former Yugoslav republic."
The British government also sent a frigate of the Royal Navy to the Adriatic to act as "neutral territory" for talks (scheduled for July 29) between Serb and Croat military leaders to discuss the continuing violence around the Croatian port city of Dubrovnik.
The EC talks in London opened on July 27 and were expected to last several days. They were held under the auspices of Jose Cutileiro, chairman of a European Community special conference on Bosnia, who saw leaders of the Serb, Croat, and Muslim communities separately.
THE safe-haven plan and the idea of setting up an international tribunal to safeguard human rights were outlined separately by Mr. Cutileiro to leaders of the three delegations.
Cutileiro said July 27 that he also had political proposals which he was explaining to the leaders of the three communities.
Radovan Karadzic, leader of Bosnia's Serbs, told reporters: "I am optimistic about the chances of progress because we are talking about fresh approaches which imply that we are going to meet the other parties face-to-face."
But Haris Silajdzic, leader of Bosnia's Muslims, who met Cutileiro for more than two hours, was highly cautious. After his meeting with the Portuguese diplomat, he said: "Mr. Cutileiro told me that the Serbian side is saying that they want peace. We say, of course, they can make peace any time they want. We believe there can be no meaningful talk about a political settlement at gunpoint. Towns are besieged and shelled.There are 57 concentration camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina in which 95,000 people are held.
They are controlled by Serbian extremists."
"The Serbs can't be talking about peace while making war," Mr. Silajdzic added.
The Muslim delegation refused to meet Serbian representatives face-to-face.
British diplomatic sources said the talks were an important element in preparations for the much larger international gathering planned for London at the end of August.
"Every aspect of a settlement must be examined," a senior British diplomat said. "What is needed is confidence-building. The cease-fire in Bosnia is not working, but that is no reason to give up the search for a political settlement. In fact it is a very good reason for intensifying our efforts."