Armenians quit Nagorno-Karabakh talks

The Armenian delegation withdrew Sunday from talks on ending four years of conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, saying participants were silent about an offensive by Azerbaijan.

"Until the Azeri aggression has been condemned, Armenia will play no further part in this meeting," Christian der Stepanian, head of the Armenian delegation, told Italy's ANSA news agency.

Reports from the region said Azeri forces had captured Mardakert, an important town in the north of Karabakh. Azeri fighters in recent weeks have been regaining territory lost in Armenian offensives earlier in the year. Nine of 11 commonwealth leaders meet in Moscow

Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States opened their fifth summit Monday, but the Moscow meeting was clouded by deep policy differences and the absence of the rival Armenian and Azeri presidents.

Nine heads of state from the commonwealth met in Moscow to wrestle with key economic and military issues facing the heirs to the Soviet empire. The meeting's agenda was dominated by security issues, and the leaders were expected to concentrate on Ukraine's demands for veto power over use of nuclear weapons on its territory.

The leaders are also expected to discuss preservation of the so-called ruble zone and other elements of their moves from a planned economy to market systems.

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his Azeri counterpart Abulfaz Elchibey were absent at the start of the summit, but officials said the Armenian leader was due to join the talks. Yugoslav prime minister requests delay

Yugoslavia's new Prime Minister, Milan Panic, has asked the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) to delay any action against Belgrade and pledged to do his utmost to end fighting in the Balkan state.

"I beg your forbearance for 100 days, the traditional time allotted to any new government to demonstrate its direction and political effectiveness," he said in a letter to CSCE.

Contents of the message were revealed to reporters yesterday by the Yugoslav ambassador to the CSCE, Vladimir Pavicevic, who handed the message to CSCE officials earlier on Monday.

"My government will be composed of experts who share my views and will spare no effort to end the tragic conflict that has engulfed Yugoslavia," Mr. Pavicevic quoted Panic as saying.

The 52-nation CSCE, which holds a summit meeting later this week in Helsinki, has been debating a proposal to exclude Yugoslavia from its meetings because of its alleged support of minority Serbs fighting Croats and Muslims in the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. There was no reaction immediately available from the CSCE on the letter. Munich summit could nudge GATT talks

US and British government officials say a breakthrough may be near on the failed General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

"We believe that we are very close to an agreement," said a senior US official at the Group-of-Seven summit in Munich yesterday. This view was echoed by a British official who said that "the gap between the participants is narrow."

The British, who have just taken on the presidency of the European Community, are especially eager to see the long-stalled world trade talks resolved during their term. The British government official called GATT the issue Prime Minister John Major "cares most about" during his EC presidency.

Although the Germans maintain that the Munich summit is not the place to "negotiate" GATT, others say it is the perfect opportunity for heads of state to succeed where their ministers and negotiators have failed. What they hope for is a "political push," said an EC official, adding: "We are looking for substantive progress in Munich.

The EC official cautioned, however, that the Americans and British were perhaps too optimistic. "If not at Munich, then perhaps next month," he said about the timing of a GATT breakthrough. President Bush and EC Commission President Jacques Delors were to meet to discuss the issue this morning.

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