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Bosnian Serbs to Boycott Aid Meeting
In Disappointing Move, Serbs Ask for Separate Talks
SARAJEVO, April 10 (Reuters) — Bosnian Serbs refused on Wednesday to attend a postwar reconstruction conference in Brussels as part of an overall Bosnian delegation and demanded separate representation. Rajko Kasagic, prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic, told Carl Bildt, the international high representative for Bosnia, that his invitation to attend the conference was "inacceptable."

The conference, to drum up international aid to rebuild Bosnia after 43 months of war between its Muslim, Croat and Serb communities, starts on Friday whether the Serbs go or not. Kasagic told Bildt in a letter faxed to the media that under the Bosnian peace agreement, no joint bodies would exist in Bosnia until after elections due later this year. "If (Bosnian Serb government) representatives are to travel to Brussels, we ask for separate representation and equal treatment with the (Muslim-Croat) Federation," he said.

Diplomats said the response was part of the Bosnian Serbs' campaign to force the international community to treat them as a sovereign state. They described it as a victory for hardline nationalist war leaders keen to disrupt the peace process, which has indicted some of them for war crimes, and reassert their own authority in Bosnian Serb politics. The hardliners have forced Kasagic, regarded as a moderate and pragmatist, to break off any further joint meetings or cooperation with the Muslim-Croat federation.

Political sources said hardliners bent on Bosnian Serb independence were indifferent to the risk that refusal to attend the conference might cost them financial aid, although towns they seized from Muslims and Croats sustained heavy war damage. Hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Serbs are now living in appalling conditions in camps or in wrecked housing. Bildt agreed to invite the Bosnian Serbs only after they reluctantly complied with demands for the release of prisoners of war.

The aid conference, organised by the European Union and the World Bank, will bring together experts and foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major industralised countries, the 15-nation EU, the Islamic world and Asia. It has the goal of raising $1.2 billion to add to the $600 million already pledged last December.

Bildt said the Bosnian Serb leadership appeared to be in "turmoil," sending out conflicting signals during negotiations on the POWs. "I'm sure we have not seen the end of that (turmoil)," he said. He said Bosnian Serb "president" Radovan Karadzic, an indicted war criminal who is required under the Dayton peace accords to step down from office, was pushing to retain influence in talks with international representatives. "He (Karadzic) is extremely keen not to be sidelined for reasons that are rather obvious. We are very keen to have him sidelined. That is the essence of the political battle going on," he said.

Bildt, like other international envoys, said his office refused to meet Karadzic. "Mr Karadzic is not the president of the Serb republic...according to the peace agreement and we would never have any dealings with him in any sort of way."

Additional resources
Bosnian Donors Told to Dig Deep
U.S. Presses Ahead with Bosnia Aid
The World Bank

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