Bosnian Serb and Croatian military chiefs snubbed the new U.N. peacekeeping commander Tuesday by failing to show up for talks on Sarajevo's status as a "safe area" for Muslims.
Only Rasim Delic, the head of the Muslim-led government's army, came for talks on demilitarizing Sarajevo and protecting the city and five other Muslim enclaves that the United Nations has designated as safe areas.
The meeting at Sarajevo airport also had been intended to introduce the top generals of Bosnia's three warring ethnic factions to Gen. Jean Cot of France, the new commander of U.N. forces in the former Yugoslav federation.
The Bosnian Serb commander, Ratko Mladic, and his Croatian counterpart, Milivoj Petkovic, stayed away, underscoring the dwindling respect all three Bosnian factions have for U.N. peacekeepers and relief workers.
In the Serbs' northern stronghold of Banja Luka, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic told a news conference Tuesday that he will seek international recognition for a Bosnian Serb republic within Bosnia's borders if the Muslims refuse to accept a Serb-Croat peace plan. "If they do not want to accept the (plan) . . . the (Bosnian) Serb Republic will close its borders, reinforce them and seek international recognition without any territorial concessions, and absolutely within the present borders," he said, according to Belgrade Radio.
Bosnian Serbs have captured 70% of the former Yugoslav republic during 15 months of civil war.
Serbian and Croatian leaders have agreed in principle to carve Bosnia into three ethnic states, a plan opposed by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and the Muslim-led government, which fears it will be left with little territory.
Karadzic's remarks came as international mediators Lord Owen and Thorwald Stoltenberg launched a new round of shuttle diplomacy to try to get agreement on the confederal plan.
Owen warned Izetbegovic on Tuesday that it was time to talk directly to his enemies and that the plan put forward by the Serbs and Croats was the only one currently on the table.
"They have got to talk directly," he said in Dublin. "It is very difficult to get a peaceful solution unless the parties that are fighting each other talk."
In recent days, Serbs have choked off U.N. fuel shipments to Sarejevo. Croatian and Serbian forces also have blocked aid convoys elsewhere despite promises to let them pass. In some cases, Serbs have demanded exorbitant road tolls or confiscated convoy cargoes at gunpoint.
Relief workers say Serbs and Croats may be blocking aid convoys to press the Sarajevo government into accepting partition.
Muslim-led government forces blockaded a Canadian peacekeeper base for several days, demanding that a Croatian officer be turned over to face war crimes charges. The officer was allowed to return to his lines in exchange for the release by Croatian forces of four captured Muslim officers, U.N. officials said Tuesday.