Bosnia dispute between Europe and US boils over

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The Independent Online
THE RIFT between the United States and Europe over Bosnia finally broke into the open yesterday. Angry politicians in Brussels claimed US officials had lied, and a US politician bitterly attacked Europe. The relationship is rapidly disintegrating, threatening any cohesive action.

Asked about a US claim that Europe wanted to defer possible military action until after this weekend's Bosnian Serb referendum on the Vance-Owen peace plan, the Danish Foreign Minister, Neils Helveg Petersen, said: 'It has no foundation whatsoever. The question of tying anything in the EC position to the referendum is totally absurd.' His comments were echoed by Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister.

On Monday Mr Petersen spoke to Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, but nothing was said about the Serbian referendum, officials said. However, the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, had said the US was postponing military action until after the referendum, as some European goverments wished. The Europeans feel this was a way of blaming them for US inaction and indecision.

In Washington, Senator Joseph Biden, the leading proponent of military force against the Serbs, attacked European governments yesterday. By delaying military action to help the Bosnian Muslims the international community was committing 'moral rape', said Mr Biden, who has been instrumental in persuading President Bill Clinton and leading politicians in Congress that air strikes and a lifting of the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims is the correct policy. There were indications yesterday, however, that the US may drop its proposal to lift the arms embargo, or seek only a partial lifting.

Instead of air strikes, European governments favour encouraging the apparent determination of Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, to stop arms supplies to Bosnian Serbs. They also want US troops to join the United Nations force in protecting six Muslim 'safe areas'.

Mr Christopher, who failed last weekend to persuade Britain and France to support US policy, is due in New York today to meet the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Mr Boutros-Ghali said yesterday that the referendum would not be recognised by the UN.

In Belgrade, Mr Milosevic last night aimed to force Bosnian Serbs to accept the Vance-Owen plan by calling a pan-Serb assembly in Belgrade on Friday. Saying the decision was too important to be left to Bosnian Serbs alone, he said the assembly should replace the referendum.

He appears to believe he can outvote the Bosnian Serbs in an assembly stacked with his supporters and held in Belgrade where his influence would hold sway.

The assembly would be attended by delegates from Serbia, Montenegro andthe Krajina region of Croatia, as well as Bosnian Serb leaders. However, it is unclear whether the Bosnian Serbs will agree to attend.

In Geneva yesterday, the UN said it would protest 'at the highest levels' after seven Bosnian Muslim drivers were beaten by Bosnian Croat Defence Council troops at a checkpoint.

Muslims find peace in Serbia, page 9