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SLOW PEACE TALKS TAKE U.S. ENVOY TO BELGRADE

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Inching along a tortuous path to peace, a U.S. envoy ended inconclusive talks with the Bosnian government Saturday and went to Belgrade to try his luck with the Serbs.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke traveled to the Yugoslav capital to meet with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the Balkans' main power broker. Holbrooke is negotiating a cease-fire to bolster a U.S. peace plan."The two sides may both want a cease-fire, but they have very different ideas of what it means," Holbrooke said in Belgrade. "I caution people not to expect any direct announcements on that in the immediate future."

In Sarajevo, he left behind unresolved issues on the truce and a proposed division of Bosnia, along with a dispute over stalled plans to open new city access routes.

"This is a step-by-step process. It's very slow. It's very tough," he said. "We're very daunted by the issues that lie ahead."

Holbrooke is expected to meet in Croatia with President Franjo Tudjman on Sunday, then return to Sarajevo on Monday.

Likely to further complicate his shuttle diplomacy were reports of more fighting in the north around Banja Luka, the largest city still held by Bosnian Serbs.

Hopes of further easing the siege of Sarajevo were dashed Saturday when the planned opening of a main route out of the city was called off.

The Muslim-led government objected to U.N. plans to use a rough front-line road instead of a larger road as part of a main route to Kiseljak, a town held by Bosnian Croats 30 miles west of the capital.

U.N. officials promised to secure the road for civilians, but Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Si-lajdzic called it "a notorious street" open to easy ambush.

U.N. officials said the larger road, part of a heavily mined and damaged highway, was too dangerous and would take at least three weeks to clear.

Access to Sarajevo is key among government conditions for a cease-fire. Holbrooke urged the United Nations to open the route swiftly.

"Progress has been made, major progress, but we want to see the (Sarajevo) siege lifted completely and fully," he said.

Sarajevo has been under siege throughout Bosnia's 31/2-year war, which erupted when Bosnian Serbs rebelled at a vote by the Muslim-Croat majority to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Bosnian Serbs recently withdrew most of their siege guns in exchange for a halt to NATO air-strikes, but utilities and civilian routes remain cut off.

Holbrooke is trying to build on what Washington considers the best prospects yet for ending the war. The warring parties agreed Tuesday in in New York on a power-sharing scheme in a future government.

Earlier, they agreed to keep Bosnia as a single state, divided roughly in half between Bosnian Serb and Muslim-Croat entities. Details, however, have yet to be resolved.

While government forces were reported to be increasing pressure on northern towns around Banja Luka, Serbs claimed to be repelling the offensive. Each side accused the other of attacks that could jeopardize any peace accord.