Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, the British commander of UN forces in Bosnia, has told the major powers they must decide either to back the use of greater force against the Serbs - with the consequent risk to UN troops - or back down.
UN officials in Sarajevo, condemning the Bosnian Serb army as a "terrorist organisation", sounded increasingly frustrated owing to the lack of clear instructions from the international community.
"We hope that we will get some guidance and backing," said a UN spokesman, Alexander Ivanko. "A lot of thought will have to go into our next step, because it will probably be the most important step the international community makes in this century."
As the crisis threatened to spiral out of control yesterday, Bosnia's Foreign Minister, Irfan Ljubijankic, was killed after the helicopter in which he was travelling was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
Mr Ljubijankic, who succeeded the Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, as foreign minister in October 1993, was returning from the besieged Bosnian government-held enclave of Bihac in north-west Bosnia when the attack took place.
The incident occurred around 2.00am yesterday, Bosnia's state-run radio said. It was not clear, however, where the helicopter crashed or which Serb force fired the fatal missile. The Bihac enclave is surrounded by Bosnian and Croatian Serb armies.
Iskra, the Croatian Serb news agency, claimed their forces brought down the helicopter near the town of Slunj in territory controlled by rebel Serbs in Croatia, 16 miles west of the so-called Bihac pocket.
The Bosnian crisis will be at the top of the agenda for three successive international gatherings this week. Meetings of the five-power Contact Group, the European Union and Nato will try to salvage something from the rapidly deteriorating situation. European Union foreign ministers hold one of their regular monthly meetings in Brussels today. Most of the EU states have peace-keeping troops serving with the United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) in Bosnia, and they will seek to co-ordinate their stance The Contact Group, meeting at the French ambassador's residence, will consider all of the possible options, British officials said, including withdrawal.
This intensive round of diplomatic contacts will then move on to Noordwijk in the Netherlands, where Nato's 16 foreign ministers will resume discussions tomorrow. A Nato plan for the withdrawal of the UN peacekeepers is near completion.
Escalation is also an option. "There has to be 100 per cent backing by the international community for a policy of escalation," Mr Ivanko said. "But I doubt if we will be able to fulfil some of our prescribed missions without using force, including air power."
In possibly the strongest criticism that has been made by a member of the Contact Group of Western action in Bosnia, the French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, last night spoke witheringly of the recent Nato air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions, which he said were "not well prepared and exposed the peace-keepers to thoughtless risks." He insisted there was "no military solution on the part of the international community [to the current crisis] A war to impose a solution would be folly and so we must again pursue the diplomatic process."Reuse content