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Christopher Concerned at Ethnic Violence in Bosnia

By Sonya Winter

Geneva, March 18 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has expressed concern at the human suffering caused by the violence and destruction in Sarajevo districts being transferred to Bosnian government control.

Christopher told reporters Sunday night that "the humanitarian aspect is of great concern to the United States."

He said he will raise the matter with all three Balkan leaders in talks in Geneva today (Monday), as well as with Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of NATO forces in Bosnia.

But he says he does not believe the incidents of arson, violence and intimidation pose a serious threat to the peace process.

Much of what United Nations officials call "a reign of terror" is taking place in Grbavica, the last of five Sarajevo districts to change hands as part of the Dayton peace agreement.

It stipulates that on Tuesday, 90 days after the signing of the Accords, Serbs, Croats and Muslims will exchange territories, while continuing to preserve the multi-ethnic character of Bosnian society.

Christopher says the U.S. is trying to create conditions that will enable the parties to maintain a stable population.

"But there are limitations to what we can do to compel people to follow the goal of multi-ethnicity," he said.

Christopher says the U.S. remains determined to do as much as it can but that "it is obviously difficult, especially now at a time of transfer of control."

In other aspects, he says implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords is proceeding largely as planned. "The peace process is on track," he said.

Christopher said the Monday meetings with the leaders of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia mark a new phase in implementing the accords, ending a three-month stage in which the fighting forces of the various factions disengaged, disarmed and withdrew to create zones of seperation, eliminating the danger of direct confrontation.

The new phase that begins this week, Christopher said moves away from military aims to focus on political and civilian reconstruction.

The chief goals of the U.S. in this phase, Christopher said are to create conditions for free and fair elections, scheduled to be held on September 1st, to eliminate barriers to freedom of movement and trade, and to improve cooperation with the war tribunal that is investigating crimes against humanity committed during the fighting.

He said his talks today with Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Croatia's Franjo Tudjman and Bosnia's Ejup Ganic will focus on these issues.

Christopher asked the leaders to come to Geneva to meet him for a review of the peace process. He plans to have a working lunch and spend all afternoon in separate and joint talks with the Balkan presidents at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

Chriatopher says he will be seeking common ground between them, shuttling from one to the other and at times calling the leaders together for joint talks.

Christopher says he will also go ahead with a controversial meeting of the Balkan leaders with the five-member Contact Group which consists of France, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and Russia.

But only four countries will participate today. Russia has refused to attend, saying this round of talks is unnecessary because Russia is hosting a meeting of the Contact Group with Balkan foreign ministers in Moscow on Saturday.

Christopher Sunday dismissed the Russian pique as "insignificant," stressing that the Monday meetings are intended to ensure the success of the Moscow conference.

"It would be useful to have daily meetings on Bosnia," he said, adding that the U.S. bears a heavy responsibility for the Bosnia peace process and believes it is "critical" to have the talks on the eve of a transfer of power from security forces to new authorities in Bosnia.