Hopes that a U.S. peace plan would end the war in the former Yugoslavia faltered on Sunday as the remnants of the American delegation headed home with the bodies of three diplomats killed in an accident.
"Pessimism is spreading its wings," said the main Sarajevo newspaper, Oslobodjenje.Fighting appeared to be intensifying in northwest Bosnia. Shelling in Sarajevo and in the eastern Muslim enclave of Gorazde killed three children and wounded two girls. And the Bosnian foreign minister said the U.S. plan was stalled because the Serbian president was refusing to agree to its terms.
Reports that the diplomats' peace plan had drawn positive reactions from Croatia and Serbia had sparked hopes of a settlement to the war as the American team headed to Sarajevo Saturday for talks with the Bosnian president.
But an armored vehicle in their convoy slipped off the side of a road on Mount Igman, just outside Sarajevo, falling 400 yards down a ravine and exploding, killing three of the top negotiators.
Robert Frasure, 53, was a deputy assistant secretary of state and had headed the U.S. effort to end the Bosnian war. Joseph Kruzel, 50, was deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO affairs. Samuel Nelson Drew was a U.S. Air Force colonel serving as a National Security Council aide.
On Sunday, their bodies were flown by helicopter to the Croatian coastal city of Split, then by plane to a U.S. Air Force base in Germany. They were to continue on to Washington on Monday.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who was heading the mission, and other members accompanied the flag-draped wooden coffins.
"We came to the Bosnian problem as a team early this week. We'll return to Washington tomorrow as a team," Holbrooke said at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Pallbearers in dress uniforms carried the flag-draped caskets bearing the three men's remains from the medical evacuation plane to olive-drab Mercedes vans as a 30-member honor guard stood by in silence.
Holbrooke vowed to return to the former Yugoslavia on Aug. 28 to resume peace talks. He did not say who would take the place of his fallen aides.
"No one can replace them, but we will reconstitute the team," Holbrooke said.
Also on the flight were two Americans injured in Saturday's accident: Peter Hargreaves and Daniel Gerstein. Their hometowns were not released, but both worked at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. The two, whose condition was not known, were taken to a U.S. army hospital near Ramstein.
A French peacekeeper, Cpl. Stephane Raoult, also was killed in the crash, and two French soldiers were injured.
As the U.S. delegation headed home, fighting picked up across Bosnia. Near the U.N.-protected Bihac enclave in northwestern Bosnia, government troops launched at least two offensives against rebel Serbs in an effort to link up with their Croat allies further south, said Maj. Myriam Soch-acki, a U.N. spokeswoman.
She said it was unclear if the government forces had advanced, but the shelling was intense, with over 850 detonations Saturday around the Bosnian Serb town of Ripac, six miles southeast of Bihac.
A shell hit the center of Gorazde, another U.N.-designated "safe area" on Sunday, killing three children. U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said Bosnian Serbs were believed responsible.
And several shells slammed into the center of Sarajevo Sunday evening. Sniper fire in the center of town wounded a woman, and two 15-year-old girls were wounded by shells in the eastern part of the city, local officials said.
There were also reports that Serbia had received the American peace plan less warmly than previously believed.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey said Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the Balkan power broker whose support would be necessary for any peace deal, would not commit to a U.S. demand that Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia recognize one another's independence.
"One of the essential elements of the American initiative was three-part mutual recognition," Sacirbey said Sunday. "I think it's safe to say that we have not reached that commitment from President Milosevic."
Sacirbey said the Bosnian government would send a delegation to Washington "to try to keep the process going while the American team tries, of course, to recover and heal its wounds."
A Western diplomat, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Milosevic had refused to recognize Croatia, presumably because the political climate in Serbia has hardened since the Croatian army routed its rebel Serb minority, sending more than 150,000 refugees into Serbia.
The Serbian leader also was upset because an earlier plan would have lifted U.N. economic sanctions on Yugoslavia in exchange for recognizing Bosnia, while the new plan would require him to recognize both Bosnia and Croatia, the diplomat said.
Also Sunday, a British helicopter on a training flight crashed in the Adriatic Sea, killing four of the five crew members. One soldier survived by swimming to a Croatian fishing boat, said Maj. Gerald Bartlett.
The soldiers, whose identities were not released, were members of the U.N. "rapid reaction force" for Bosnia, currently based in the southern Croatian port of Ploce. The cause of the crash was not immediately determined.