Bosnian intervention agreed: Britain, US and France draft Security Council resolution to 'bluff' Serbia over aid convoys

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The Independent Online
IN A MOVE that may prove a turning point for Bosnia's beleaguered people, the United States, Britain and France yesterday forged an agreement for a Security Council resolution, paving the way for armed intervention to protect humanitarian aid convoys.

'This is one step forward, but it is long overdue,' said Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Foreign Minister. 'The people must be alive to receive aid . . . I can't be happy as long as my people are being killed, expelled, shelled and starved.'

Faced with grave unease in the armed forces about the feasibility of using military force, the countries behind the plan had 'their fingers crossed and hoped their bluff wasn't called by the Serbs,' according to a senior diplomat. Russia has already said it is in favour and the council will probably vote tomorrow, with China and Zimbabwe expected to abstain.

The bluff appeared to be working last night as signs emerged that Serbia was beginning to buckle under international pressure. Leaders of the self-styled Serbian government in Bosnia announced they were closing the two most notorious camps, at Omarska and Prijedor, and they pledged to overcome 'irregularities' in the treatment of prisoners.

The resolution calls on 'all states' to assist in taking 'all measures necessary to facilitate - in co-ordination with the UN - the delivery by relevant UN humanitarian organisations . . . of humanitarian assistance to Sarajevo, and wherever needed in Bosnia-Herzegovina'.

While it is phrased like the resolution which authorised the Gulf war allies to drive Iraq from Kuwait, the US proposal is heavily circumscribed and focuses solely on the delivery of humanitarian aid. The US and its allies have no intention of taking sides in the war in Bosnia, despite appeals from the Bosnian government.

However, a second 'war crimes' resolution, making specific reference to the brutality of Serbian camps and demanding access for international organisations, is expected to be adopted at some stage.

The US proposal has left many unanswered questions, such as which countries would provide the ground troops and air cover needed to protect the convoys of aid trucks. The US has tried to assure its allies that the resolution alone may be all that is required to guarantee the safe passage of the convoys.

But Western military advisers have described that interpretation as hopelessly nave. There is a widespread impression that President George Bush is taking action for public relations reasons, and military advisers say that the absence of a clear plan to protect the convoys may doom the operation from the outset. The US President came under increasing pressure yesterday as Baroness Thatcher's pleas to arm Bosnian Muslims reverberated across the United States.

But in London, Baroness Chalker, Minister for Overseas Development, dismissed Lady Thatcher's weekend demands for military strikes on Serbian forces, implying the former prime minister was out of touch. 'I don't want to be the minister who says we go in to protect when we don't have a hope of doing it and all we do is see our own troops come out in coffins,' Lady Chalker said.

In Brussels, Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, yesterday made the most outspoken call by a world leader for direct military action against Serbia, pressing for it to be unencumbered by limits or conditions. 'In the absence of a credible prospect - and I mean credible - of military intervention, nothing can stop the subtle, deadly strategy of the Serbian leadership,' he told an emergency European Parliament hearing.

At the insistence of the US, Britain and France, but against UN advice, the UN force already in Bosnia is expected to stay, even though its lightly armed soldiers, especially around Sarajevo, will be prime hostage targets.

The US and its allies will overrule the objections of the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who was consulted about their plans at his Long Island holiday home yesterday.

Aware of the public relations fiasco that would ensue once televised pictures were broadcast of UN forces withdrawing from Sarajevo, the US is adamant the UN must remain in place and that aid should still to be delivered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Serbs aim last blow, page 6

Leading article, letters, page 14