Clinton backs tougher action over Bosnia

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton last night drew up a plan to extend Nato air cover in Bosnia to protect Muslim enclaves. The proposals may include an ultimatum for the Bosnian Serbs to pull back from the recent gains on the ground, or face more air strikes.

Washington's move came as the Bosnian Serbs started to free United Nations military observers detained after last week's air strikes, and returned 13 of the 18 anti-aircraft guns they had seized in Sarajevo earlier in the day.

Late last night, the Bosnian Serbs signed an agreement with the UN to cease fire immediately round the besieged Muslim enclave of Gorazde - one of the UN's 'safe areas' holding tens of thousands of refugees, which had been shelled throughout the day.

Earlier yesterday, President Boris Yeltsin had told the Bosnian Serbs to halt their attack on Gorazde and proposed a summit between Russia, the United States and the European Union on ways to solve the crisis in Bosnia.

'The conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina is at the brink of a dangerous escalation despite the energetic diplomatic efforts by Russia, taken jointly with the United Nations and other members of the international community,' Mr Yeltsin said in a statement.

He called on the Bosnian Serb leadership to 'fulfil its obligations' to Russia by halting the offensive, leaving Gorazde, guaranteeing UN troops be given access to the city and not blocking UN personnel elsewhere.

Mr Clinton's proposals, which have not been fully disclosed, are a mixture of military and diplomatic moves which will be presented formally to Nato later this week. President Clinton hopes he can repeat the success of the Nato ultimatum in February, which temporarily lifted the siege of Sarajevo.

Facing growing criticism of his Bosnian policy after Bosnian Serb successes at the weekend, Mr Clinton clearly wants to show firmness. Hitherto Nato air strikes have all been to protect UN personnel. In future they will be to protect enclaves such as Gorazde, and may include pre-emptive strikes as well as those in response to Serb advances.

The US is also concerned that the ceasefire around Sarajevo has been violated and wants to see it reinstated. It does not think that a fresh UN Security Council resolution is needed, but Mr Clinton said earlier that he welcomed Mr Yeltsin's stance on Gorazde.

Aside from military action, the US wants to see sanctions against Serbia strengthened. This is sharp reversal from US policy at the weekend, when the White House was hinting that it was prepared to see them progressively lifted to encourage the Serbs to agree a ceasefire. Mr Clinton said Nato should not make threats unless it was prepared to implement them.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, predicted a full-scale war if Nato launched more air strikes on Serbian targets. 'It would be a terrible escalation, a terrible war,' he said. 'We are quite confident that we can defend ourselves. These reports about possible air strikes have worsened the situation, and the Serbs are not going to wait for the air strikes passively.'

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, asked Nato on Monday to authorise air attacks in Bosnia to defend six UN-declared Muslim 'safe areas', including Gorazde.

Clinton moves, page 10

Letters, page 15

Douglas Hurd, page 16