Holbrooke says threat to peace accord is averted


THE US said yesterday a crisis threatening the Dayton peace accord had been averted after the presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia reached crucial agreements at an emergency summit in Rome.

"In Rome we have avoided a crisis by smoothing out and indeed perhaps eliminating those bumps in the road [to peace]," the US envoy, Mr Richard Holbrooke, said.

The agreements, laid out in three separate texts, covered moves towards suspending UN sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs, unification of Sarajevo and divided Muslim Croat town Mostar, war crimes and prison of war.

The leaders agreed to restore all contacts between Bosnian factions and the Nato led peace Implementation Force (Ifor) in Bosnia, mediators said.

"The three sides have agreed that all the contacts, military and civilian, that have broken down in recent days will be resumed on schedule," Mr Holbrooke said. "Nothing was given in exchange for this. They're simply returning on their own.

The first of the scheduled meetings will take place today on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier in the Adriatic, he added.

Bosnian Serbs had broken off links because of the extradition of two Serb officers accused of war crimes.

Mr Holbrooke said the leaders agreed "precise modalities" to cooperate with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He gave no details but it appeared suspected war criminals would be arrested only if already indicted by the tribunal.

Mr Holbrooke also said moves would start this week to suspend UN sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs once Nato commanders affirmed that the Serbs were complying with the Dayton peace accord.

"We prevented a situation that could have jeopardised the Dayton agreement I believe that we passed the test but it wasn't easy," said Mr Holbrooke, who brokered the deal negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, last November.

He said the Bosnian President, Mr Alija Izetbegovic, the Croatian President, Dr Franjo Tudjman and the Serbian President, Mr Slobodan Milosevic, had all reaffirmed their commitment to the Dayton accord.

A hotline is to be set up between Mr Milosevic and Mr Izetbegovic to enable them to try to resolve problems as quickly as possible.

"We wanted to find a final solution that was agreeable to everybody," said Ms Susanna Agnelli, the Foreign Minister of Italy, which hosted the talks as president of the EU.

A document on the reunification of Sarajevo said the handover of the Serb held suburbs of the Bosnian capital would take place on March 20th as originally outlined in the Dayton accord.

The Bosnian government had pushed for the date to be brought forward by a month but appeared to have conceded to western demands to stick to the original agreement.

"The transfer of authority to the federation in the five [Serb held] suburbs will be completed by March 19th . . . The details of the future organisation of the unified Sarajevo are yet to be decided," the document said.

In separate talks in Rome, the EU brokered an agreement between Muslims and Croats to reunify the divided Bosnian town of Mostar to come into effect on February 20th.

"The European Union presidency in consultation with the administration of Mostar has provided the parties with a comprehensive solution for the integration of Mostar as a unified city," the document said. "The parties have adopted this comprehensive solution.

The Croat and Muslim mayors of Mostar were summoned to Rome together with the EU's chief administrator in the town, Mr Hans Koschnick, to try to settle the problem threatening relations within Bosnia's Muslim Croat federation.