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Norway Attempts Back-Door Channel for Yugoslavia With AM-Yugoslavia

November 3, 1993

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Norway appears to have opened a back-door channel for negotiations on conflicts in former Yugoslavia, similar to one it used to broker the historic Israel-PLO peace agreement.

Top officials from Croatia and Serbia were in Oslo this week for talks aimed at negotiating a cease-fire in the Serb-controlled Krajina region of Croatia, officials said Tuesday.

Norwegian officials refused to comment on the meetings, but the self- proclaimed Serb government of Krajina confirmed them in a statement issued in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The statement said the meeting, which included Krajina’s self-styled President Goran Hadzic and the deputy speaker of Croatia’s parliament, Slavko Degoricija, was close to reaching an agreement Monday, but broke off Tuesday without an agreement.

It was unclear if or when the talks would resume.

″Accepting the suggestion from international mediators Knut Vollebaek and Gerd Ahrens, the delegation of the Republic of Srpska Krajina went to Oslo on Monday to negotiate a cease-fire, cessation of hostilities and establishing of traffic and economic ties with the Croatian delegation,″ the statement said.

″The two delegations reached a high level of understanding on almost all matters of dispute. An agreement on cease-fire, cessation of hostilities and economic cooperation was likely to be signed on Monday.″

But the statement said the Croatian delegation received new conditions from Croatian President Franjo Tudjman regarding the status of Serb-held territory in Croatia, which resulted in the collapse of the talks.

Croatia’s Serb minority captured a third of Croatia, including the southwestern Krajina region, in 1991. On Tuesday, Tudjman proposed a new truce that would give Serbs local autonomy in certain areas. But Serbs have vowed not to submit to Croatian rule.

Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ingvard Havnen said he could not comment on the reports, but diplomatic officials in Geneva, Switzerland confirmed there had been a meeting in Oslo.

Norway kept secret months of talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, brokered by Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst. Those talks led to a Sept. 13 peace accord.

The U.N. mediator in the former Yugoslavia, Thorvald Stoltenberg, started the Middle East talks while he was Norway’s foreign minister. He resigned in May to take the U.N. post.

Stoltenberg was asked about rumors of talks in Norway when he visited Croatia on Oct. 24. The Vjesnik newspaper in Zagreb quoted Stoltenberg as saying, ″If this is a secret I cannot confirm anything, because then it would not be secret. We want results, and if such talks would contribute to a solution, I think Norway could be a good place for talks.″

Stoltenberg said the success of the Middle East talks ″could be thanks to the full secrecy in which talks were going on.″

The Norwegian news agency NTB said Stoltenberg, frustrated by lack of progress in efforts to settle the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been concentrating on smaller, regional conflicts in former Yugoslavia in hopes of approaching peace in small steps.

Sources close to the peace process speculated that Stoltenberg may have opened a back channel through diplomatic connections he established with Serbs in the early 1960s, NTB said.

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