THE EC, under growing pressure from Germany, agreed tonight to speed

up recognition of the breakaway Yugoslavian republics, Croatia and


0 The 12 EC Foreign Ministers agreed on a process for recognition of

independence claims. An EC commission will study them, and if it finds

that the republics obey basic human rights criteria, they will be

awarded automatic independence.

The criteria, based on a French proposal, include whether there is

democratic rule, whether human rights are respected, and whether ethnic

minorities are safe.

However, the Germans made it clear they will proceed with recognition

of Slovenia and Croatia anyway.

It appeared a tortuous compromise on recognition of the Yugoslav

republics in an attempt to avoid an embarrassing rift within days of the

Maastricht summit.

All Yugoslav republics are now invited to apply for recognition by

next Monday.

Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that disagreement among the EC

countries would damage both the Community and the chances of peace in


''It wasn't easy, but we have reached agreement,'' he added. ''We have

conditional recognition of independence, with implementation in


''It is likely that Croatia and Slovenia will be recognised, I

wouldn't like to say when.''

Mr Hurd admitted that the move contained risks if Serbia responds by

rejecting the peace process and stepping up the factional fighting for

territorial control in Croatia.

''There are risks. No one can guarantee that the steps taking by the

Community will bring about peace in Yugoslavia. This is a very difficult

and dangerous process for the people of Yugoslavia. We cannot guarantee

against these dangers,'' he said.

But Mr Hurd said he did not believe that Serbia wished or was able to

''continue indefinitely in defiance of the world''.

Earlier, Lord Carrington, who has been trying to broker peace

negotiations among the warring factions, had warned the EC Ministers

that premature recognition of Croatia will lead to more violence. He

said that it might also threaten the lives of EC monitors in Yugoslavia.

''The danger is that by being bullied into a deal by the Germans, the

EC Foreign Ministers will make matters worse, not better,'' said a

Common Market diplomat. ''This is not a deal of which the EC can be


Germany had promised to recognise Croatia and Slovenia before

Christmas, a pledge aimed at isolating Serbia, but which ran against the

opinions of Britain, the United Nations, United States and most of

Bonn's other EC partners.

Since June, thousands of people have been killed in fighting between

Croatian forces and Croatia's Serbian minority, supported by Serbia and

the Serb-led federal army.

The majority EC view was that early recognition could fan the

conflict, widen it to parts of Yugoslavia so far unaffected and dash UN

efforts to send in a peacekeeping force.

But Bonn, its room for manoeuvre limited by the repeated public

pledges by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other officials, had threatened to

break ranks and recognise Croatia and Slovenia next Thursday.

''It would be unfair to recognise Croatia on Thursday and then say (to

the UN), 'you have 24 hours to send in your peace keeping force','' said

a spokesman for the EC's Dutch presidency.

The compromise worked out means ''conditional recognition'' -- a

deliberately vague term -- could be granted on Monday, two days before

Christmas and early enough to allow Bonn to say its pledges had been


But real recognition by the other EC states would wait until

mid-January, by which time a UN force might be in place to enforce an

effective ceasefire and EC officials would be able to certify whether

the two republics met the criteria.

Earlier, Germany brushed aside pleas from the UN and pressure from

fellow EC countries to insist it would give full diplomatic recognition

to both of the breakaway republics.

German government officials, speaking at a congress of Chancellor

Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU) in Dresden, said Bonn would go

ahead with the controversial step even if its main European ally France

does not support it.

''If we agree with the French, we will have a conditional

recognition,'' said one official. ''If not, we'll just go ahead and

recognise them.''

The decision would come at Thursday's Cabinet meeting, the last before

the Christmas holiday Bonn has unilaterally set as the deadline for

recognising Croatia and Slovenia.

Bonn's pro-Zagreb stand enjoys wide support among Germans, who see

Croatians as Roman Catholics long linked to German-speaking states but

now blocked in their drive for freedom by ruthless attacks from Europe's

last communist strongmen, the Serbs.

Croatian radio said today that federal planes bombed a village near

Daruvar, east of Zagreb, on Monday, killing several people.

It said the army attacked the nearby town of Nova Gradiska with

howitzers, rocket-launchers and tanks and one civilian was killed by

shellfire. The eastern city of Osijek also came under fire, it said.

Tanjug news agency, reporting the army's side, also spoke of fighting

around Nova Gradiska but said it had been started by the Croats.

It said a column of refugees in the area was attacked by three

crop-dusting planes -- Croatia's only aircraft.

Doctors said 5000 Serb refugees had arrived in Banja Luka, south of

Nova Gradiska, in recent days.--Reuter.