Nato jets to defend Bihac

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The Independent Online
Nato will formally extend its air-strikes threat to the defence of Bihac by next Tuesday in a despairing final effort by Western governments to impose their will on both the Bosnian Serbs and the United States Congress.

But it is now widely believed in London and other Western capitals that if Nato is forced to go ahead with wide-scale bombing of the Serbs - regarded as more than a 50-50 chance - the Balkan war will spin into a new phase that could force the rapid withdrawal of the United Nations peace-keepers.

President Bill Clinton made it clear yesterday that he expects to see Nato air action in the near future. Following his humiliating reverse on Wednesday, when the US Senate voted to lift the arms ban on the Bosnian government, Mr Clinton desperately needs to prove that his own approach is working and he has persuaded the allies to take tougher action against the Serbs. "You can't go about the world saying you're going to do something and then not do it," he said.

It remains unclear whether the Senate and the House of Representatives will overturn the likely Clinton veto on the lifting of the arms embargo. Britain and France again warned yesterday that the lifting of the embargo would mean the end of the UN mission; but British officials also fear that an intensive Nato bombing campaign would force the peace-keepers out. A senior British source in London said last night that the Government now assumes that, one way or another, Unprofor will have to withdraw under a Nato umbrella in about two months.

It is now clearly acknowledged by the Western allies that as soon as air strikes are launched UN peace-keepers would be viewed as the enemy by the Bosnian Serbs. It would be impossible to protect the 35,000 UN forces who would have to be withdrawn.

Despite these gloomy scenarios, UN and Nato generals will gather in Brussels today to start to implement the air strikes strategy agreed for Gorazde earlier in the week. Nato's military planners have also begun to extend the plan to the northern Muslim enclave of Bihac, which presents more complex targeting problems due to the presence nearby of Croatian forces as well as rebel Muslims. Croatia continued to mass its forces yesterday for a possible offensive against Croatian Serbs which would relieve pressure on the Bihac enclave. This could in turn bring an intervention by Serbia. Western officials also fear that Unprofor would have to be withdrawn should war break out between Croatia, the Bosnian Serbs and the former Yugoslav army, which seems increasingly possible.

Bosnia's options, page 8

INSIDE

'One cannot speak about the protection of human rights with credibility when one is confronted with the lack of consistency and courage displayed by the international community and its leaders' Tadeusz Mazowiecki, resigning as UN chief human rights investigator in the former Yugoslavia, page 8

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