BOSNIA'S warring leaders sat down together yesterday to talk peace for the first time in almost two weeks, but hopes that they will soon agree on a new map for the former Yugoslav republic were tempered by a fresh walk-out threat.
Bosnian Croat military leaders said the negotiations depended on whether Muslim forces in central Bosnia-Herzegovina let supplies through to a hospital in a stranded village.
President Alija Izetbegovic also rejected a claim by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that the siege of Sarajevo was over, the Serb forces had completely withdrawn from two mountains above the capital, and roads had been opened for aid convoys.
Mr. Izetbegovic had said he would insist that ending the 16-month Serb siege of Sarajevo be the first priority when talks on the map of ethnic partition resumed. In Sarajevo, the chief United Nations Protection Force spokesman said the Bosnian Serb encirclement of Sarajevo had been relaxed to such a degree that it could no longer be called a siege.
European Community mediator Lord David Owen and his co-chairman, United Nations envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg, hosted the talks, which broke up 12 days ago after Serbs overran Mt. Igman and Mt. Bjelasnica, advancing their positions around Sarajevo. The mediators spent last week meeting the warring leaders separately and trying to persuade the Serbs to pull back. Izetbegovic said he would not resume the talks until they had. The Serbs withdrew over the weekend behind lines agreed with UN officials.
Soon after talks began on July 27, the Muslims reluctantly agreed to a Serb-Croat plan to turn Bosnia into a union of three ethnic ministates. The factions are now due to plot out the map. But there are seemingly irreconcilable differences, especially over Serb demands for the partition of Sarajevo, which the Muslims reject.
Lord Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg want to secure at least 30 percent of Bosnia's land for the Muslims. Izetbegovic says that to be viable his state needs a minimum of 43 percent, corresponding to the pre-war Muslim percentage of the population, and access to the sea.
Abkhazians cry foul
Abkhazia accused Georgia yesterday of shelling its forces in violation of a peace plan to end fighting in the region, but Georgia denied that its troops had violated the withdrawal timetable, part of a cease-fire agreement signed July 27.
Georgian and Abkhazian soldiers began pulling back from the front line in Abkhazia, a rich resort in northwestern Georgia between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, over the weekend, one year after fighting began between Georgian troops and Abkhazian separatists. Under the peace plan, both sides were to pull back from the front line by today, but the deadline has been extended to Aug. 20, Russian TV reported yesterday.
The conflict began Aug. 14, 1992, as Georgian troops - sent into the western regions to root out guerrillas backing ousted Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia - marched into Abkhazia, which had declared independence. The civil war contributed to economic chaos and the resignation of Georgia's Cabinet this month. The Russian-brokered accord calls for demilitarization and deployment of international observers.
Egyptian plane thief nabbed
German commandos stormed a hijacked KLM jetliner yesterday and arrested an Egyptian hijacker who had demanded freedom for the Muslim cleric whose followers include men charged in the February World Trade Center bombing.
Police identified the man as Khaled Gharib of Egypt.
After forcing the plane to land in Duesseldorf, Mr. Gharib freed all 131 passengers and, gradually, five of the plane's seven crew members. No shots were fired as Germany's GSG-9 special police unit apprehended Gharib, who did not have the 45 pounds of explosives he had claimed he had, police said.
Gharib demanded that Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman be released and flown to Egypt. Sheikh Rahman is being held in the US on immigration charges. Some of his followers have been charged in the Feb. 26 World Trade Center bombing and in an alleged plot to bomb several New York landmarks. Gharib also demanded UN sanctions against Serbia be more strictly enforced.