Bosnian Peace Process Hits `Decisive' Phase

If there is no progress soon, foreign peacekeeping forces may lose the will to carry on

MEDIATORS trying to end the carnage in Bosnia-Herzegovina say peace efforts have entered the ``decisive'' phase, and warn that failure could lead to a withdrawal of peacekeeping troops and a spread of fighting.

``There is a danger of a contagious effect to other areas, outside the present area of war. That means it's more imperative than ever to be able to achieve a peace agreement,'' United Nations peace negotiator Thorvald Stoltenberg told journalists in Bonn last week.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and his Croat counterpart, Franjo Tudjman, were scheduled to meet in Bonn yesterday with Mr. Stoltenburg and European Union mediator Lord David Owen to discuss ways to end the three-way war between Muslim, Croat, and Serb forces in Bosnia.

The talks were originally scheduled for Saturday, but were postponed when a ferocious Serb artillery barrage on the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo prevented Izetbegovic's aircraft from taking off.

The latest effort to secure a cease-fire comes as frustration mounts among mediators and peacekeepers at the failure to stop the fighting. If there is no progress soon, foreign forces may lose the will to carry on, Stoltenburg said. Canada is already considering pulling out its 2,000-troop peacekeeping contingent, after several Canadian soldiers were reportedly subjected to mock executions.

Though Stoltenberg and Lord Owen press on with peace efforts, they are not optimistic. Owen said perhaps the biggest obstacle to a settlement is the obstinateness of the combatants. Two years of bitter warfare have hardened attitudes to the point that a lasting cease-fire may now be impossible to implement, meaning only a total military victory by one of the participants would stop the fighting.

``I don't think they are especially interested [in peace] and I think this is the real problem,'' Lord Owen said, referring to Bosnian, Croat, and Serb leaders.

``We haven't had a proper democratic system operating in this part of the world for many, many years,'' he continued. ``You do get the feeling that the political leaders are out of touch.'' Others say the people those leaders represent would not allow them to make peace even if they wanted to.

France, meanwhile, is pressing for UN armed intervention to stop the fighting. Five French peacekeepers were wounded in the recent Serb artillery attack on Sarajevo. Paris has indicated that it will raise the issue of Bosnia at today's NATO summit in Brussels.

UN officials oppose authorizing US airstrikes on Serb targets in Bosnia, reasoning that such action would change the nature of the UN mission in the former Yugoslavia from peacekeeping to peacemaking.

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