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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Croatia Talks Fail but Serbs Offer New Deal

COMBINED REPORTS


ZAGREB, Croatia -- Croatia on Thursday said talks with rebel Serbs had failed and its top general said his troops were ready to attack.


But the outmanned Krajina Serbsmade a new offer on negotiations, offering to talk for the first time about submitting to some degree of Croatian authority.


At the same time, heavy explosions rocked the Dubrovnik area on Croatia's seaboard, shortly after a Bosnian Serb threat to shell it, Croatian media reported. The Bosnian Serb army had warned it would bombard Dubrovnik unless the Croatian army stopped shelling the Serb town of Drvar in northwest Bosnia. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage.


The Geneva talks between Croatian government and rebel Serb representatives had convened on a wide range of issues: proposals for further negotiations on a final political settlement, a delay in hostilities, opening of an oil pipeline to government-held territories and the resumption of transport links.


But the Croats, confident after a series of battlefield advances, focused only on the main issue. They want the Serbs to accept Croatian government authority -- something the rebels have resisted up to now.


"They have not accepted proposals for a peaceful reintegration," said Croatian negotiator Ivic Pasalic. "The only progress is that talks took place."


A resumption of talks still seemed possible, however, after a last-minute Serb compromise. Clearly hoping to keep the Croats at the negotiating table to divert them from the battlefield, the Serbs for the first time said they were willing to talk about demands of submitting to Zagreb's authority.


Milan Babic, one of the rebel Serb leaders, said his side was ready to negotiate with the Croats about a modified version of a Croat plan that would give some rebel-Serb-held areas nearly full autonomy. Babic said the Serbs wanted autonomous status extended to more of the regions they hold.


New talks would buy the Croatia sent thousands of regular troops into western Bosnia to join Bosnian Croat allies in stunning advances on the rebel Serbs.


Officially, Croatia intervened to help Bosnia's government defend the northwestern enclave of Bihac, which borders Croatia. But Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's goals are to retake, militarily if necessary, adjacent land held by Croatian Serbs.


Croatia has 100,000 soldiers mobilized and ready for a possible multipronged attack to regain territory from its rebel Serbs, who have 50,000 men primed for battle.


Tudjman drove home his hardline stance again Thursday, linking Bihac to his demand that Croatian Serbs give up their lands.


"If the rebel Serbs again reject the reintegration of the occupied territories, and continue with violent acts and provocations against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia will be forced to undertake the most severe measures to prevent attacks on the Bihac 'safe area,'" he told Croatia's HINA news agency.


Asked if Croat forces were ready to attack Serb-held lands, Lieutenant General Zvonimir Cervenko, chief of staff of the government army, told reporters: "We are ready."


On tense but quiet front lines, the Serbs also seemed prepared for battle.


"If there is no agreement, we will have war," said a rebel Serb soldier near an M-84 tank less than a kilometer away from Croat lines on the Mount Dinara front line running along a stretch of the Bosnian-Croatian border.


Any full-scale war in Croatia would merge with the war in Bosnia and threaten to engulf all of the former Yugoslavia. Nationalists in Serbia would press for a re-entry of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army in the conflicts both in Croatia and Bosnia to protect ethnic Serb brethren.


Milan Martic, the Croatian Serb "president" said in Knin that he already had assurances of military support from Yugoslavia if the Croats attacked.


"We never seceded from Yugoslavia and thus it has an obligation to help us and defend us," Martic said. "The answer from Belgrade was, 'we'll not abandon you and, if need be, will help you.'"


And Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said Yugoslav army help already was on the way. He told HINA that two Yugoslav army generals had been posted to the Kordun region southeast of Zagreb and to Knin, the stronghold of rebel Serbs 200 kilometers south of the Croatian capital.


UN officials said that Yugoslav army personnel and material may be going into regions controlled by rebel Serbs over the Serbian border but the United Nations had no ways of verification.


?Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic offered his resignation at a meeting of the country's parliament in the central Bosnian town of Zenica on Thursday, state radio reported.


Silajdzic also asked for a vote of confidence in the entire government which has been badly shaken in recent weeks by the capture by Bosnian Serbs of two eastern enclaves, it said.


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