Yugoslavian mediation effort breaks down

August 05, 1991|By Charles T. Powers | Charles T. Powers,Los Angeles Times

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia -- The head of a European Community peace mission withdrew in frustration from the Yugoslav crisis yesterday, announcing that mediation efforts had failed and predicting that the disintegrating country was "facing tragedy and catastrophe."

After two days of meetings with leaders of the warring republics of Croatia and Serbia and federal Yugoslav leaders in Belgrade, Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, in a grim mood, told reporters, "We have not succeeded. . . . At this very moment, there is nothing more we can do here."

Mr. van den Broek, leading a three-man delegation of EC foreign ministers, said that the EC had proposed a truce, with monitoring to be carried out by joint Croatian, Serbian and federal army units. But the proposal, he indicated, never got off ,, the ground.

"We have to conclude there is no unanimity here and that there is a lack of political will which would allow for a comprehensive cease-fire agreement," he said.

The EC delegation's failure was clearly a blow to the Croatian government, which declared its independence from the Yugoslav federation in June but has found its way blocked by Serbia and has been locked in a territorial war with its neighbor, the largest in the Yugoslav federation.

Croatia's poorly equipped national guard and police units have been under mounting pressure from Serb guerrillas -- drawn from the numerous population of ethnic Serbs in Croatia -- often with the backing of the largely Serbian-led Yugoslav federal army. The Croatians have been hoping that a European-brokered cease-fire would bring an end to the fighting.

The Serb militias, on the other hand, have been gaining territory steadily in Croatia and are in no mood to discuss a cease-fire.

The EC delegation met twice with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, who made it clear that Serbia would not accept foreign forces in any peacekeeping role. Mr. van den Broek said that Mr. Milosevic failed to turn up for a third scheduled meeting yesterday. In fact, no Serbian representatives were present for the final session with the "troika," as the three ministers were called in most of the Yugoslav news media.

"The discussions, in fact," Mr. van den Broek said in Belgrade, "are stagnating if not being stonewalled. We regret this, not because of our efforts, but very much for our common concern for the plight of the people here."

And he said, in obvious reference to Serbian politicians, "It is not difficult for those who followed our work here to recognize who stonewalled our mission."

The foremost of those figures, Mr. Milosevic, has risen to power ++ on a wave of nationalism. The same could be said of President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, whose election last year, on a nationalist program, helped to set the two republics on a collision course.

In the wake of the failed European effort, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher called for an emergency meeting today of EC foreign ministers.

The federal presidency in Belgrade said it was continuing efforts to impose a cease-fire, but its chances of success now seem no brighter than its past attempts.

Militarily, the Serb militia forces appeared to be preparing for further action in the Slavonia region of eastern Croatia. Croatian national guardsmen said there were signs of tanks and armored personnel carriers moving in large numbers near the town of Osijek, on the Danube.

The federal army has been accused by the Croatian authorities of siding with Serb nationalists, about 600,000 of whom live in Croatia and want their region annexed to Serbia. Army officials have asserted that they are merely trying to separate the two sides. However, there appears to be close coordination between the army and the Serb militia units, and when federal army armored equipment moves into an area, it often signals a Serb movement as well.

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