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U.S. Envoy Presses Ahead With Balkan Shuttle Diplomacy

October 1, 1995 GMT

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke took his peace mission to the third Balkan capital in as many days Sunday, trying to close the gap between the warring sides in the former Yugoslavia and forge a cease-fire.

But prospects appeared slim for a truce in Bosnia anytime soon, with government troops pressing an offensive in the west and rebel Serbs struggling to regain lost ground.

Holbrooke met Sunday in Zagreb with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman after inconclusive talks with the Bosnian government in Sarajevo and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the main powerbroker in the Balkans.


``Every time we talk, each side clarifies its views a little,″ Holbrooke said before leaving Belgrade, the Serbian capital, for Zagreb.

``But while both sides say they want to stop the fighting, they haven’t agreed on how this would be done. We are working very intensively on it.″

Holbrooke, an assistant secretary of state, is trying to build on what Washington considers the best prospects yet for ending the war. The warring parties agreed last week in New York on a power-sharing scheme for a future government, although tricky details have yet to be resolved.

Earlier, they agreed to keep Bosnia as a single state, divided roughly in half between the Bosnian Serbs and a Muslim-Croat federation. Specific territorial division will require tough negotiations.

``As we said many times, the distance separating the two sides is very large on all the basic issues,″ Holbrooke said.

Milosevic, in a statement, said a cease-fire was a prerequisite for any high-level peace talks, after which ``the cease-fire should transform into a permanent peace.″

Tudjman and Holbrooke discussed the last Serb-held land in Croatia, an eastern stretch bordering Serbia. Holbrooke said afterward that reintegration of that land into Croatia was critical, but emphasized that it must be peaceful.

In an early August offensive, the Croatian army recaptured most of the territory its rebel Serbs had held since 1991. The Croatian government has warned that it would resort to force to retake the remaining Serb-held territory if a peaceful solution is not found soon.

Holbrooke is scheduled to return Monday to Sarajevo.

The Muslim-led Bosnian government’s conditions for a cease-fire include the demilitarization of Banja Luka, the heavily defended Serb stronghold 80 miles northwest of Sarajevo. Serbs flatly reject that demand.

Banja Luka has become a major point of contention following extensive Serb territorial losses to combined government and Croat forces in the area. It is the largest city still held by Bosnian Serbs and is now swollen with Serb refugees.

Among other government conditions for a cease-fire are the lifting of Sarajevo’s siege and the opening of a corridor to the eastern government-held enclave of Gorazde.

Sarajevo has been under siege throughout Bosnia’s 3 1/2-year-old war, which broke out when Bosnian Serbs rebelled at a vote by the Muslim-Croat majority to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Likely to complicate Holbrooke’s efforts to push the peace process along were reports of more fighting in northern Bosnia.

Government forces appeared to be pressing an offensive toward the Serb-held town of Mrkonjic Grad, 25 miles south of Banja Luka.

Associated Press photographer Darko Bandic reported hearing planes attack the government-held village of Cadjavica on Sunday about 15 miles northwest of Mrkonjic Grad. Local officials said the planes dropped cluster bombs, injuring several people.

There was no U.N. or NATO confirmation. Such attacks would be a blatant violation of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Bosnia.

And Serbs apparently were regaining some ground in a push toward Bosanski Novi on the Croatian border, about 40 miles northwest of Banja Luka.

``We do think that this offensive may have had some success,″ said a U.N. spokeswoman, Maj. Myriam Sochacki.