Russia joins West in condemning Serbs

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The Independent Online
FOR THE first time since Nato launched air strikes against Serbian targets on 10 and 11 April, Russia condemned Serbian defiance of the United Nations yesterday. In an unexpectedly angry reaction, Vitaly Churkin, Moscow's special envoy for former Yugoslavia, was quoted as saying: 'The time has come for Russia to stop all discussion with the Bosnian Serbs. The time for talking is past.'

Reversing previous Russian policy, Mr Churkin said that he had recommended that Moscow support the West. His remarks reflected frustration that the Serbs had ignored Russia's efforts to broker a ceasefire in the Muslim enclave of Gorazde last weekend.

The European Union and the United States tried to put together a fresh diplomatic initiative for Bosnia yesterday, as Serbian forces consolidated their grip on Gorazde, and the UN commander in the region warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the town. EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg asked Lord Owen to consult the UN, the US and Russia on the best way to forge a united strategy to end the war.

A French plan, discussed in Luxembourg, envisages a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gorazde, the withdrawal of Serbian troops from an agreed exclusion zone and the deployment of UN forces in the town. While that may salvage something from the wreckage of Western policy in Bosnia, it seems unlikely to disguise the fact that the Bosnian Serbs have outwitted the UN and seized effective control of the largest remaining Muslim region of eastern Bosnia.

In London, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, called on the UN to review its goals in Bosnia in the light of the 'serious setback' in Gorazde and the continuing shortage of promised ground troops. Mr Rifkind implicitly questioned whether the UN had the resources to enforce other safe havens when he told a sombre House of Commons there must be a 'proper assessment by the UN of its continuing ability to carry out its mandate'.

The European ministers agreed that the lack of an international consensus on Bosnia had been a major factor in the debacle. 'The Americans are brandishing a stick, the Russians are brandishing a carrot, and the European Union is doing a little bit of both at the same time,' said Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister.

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said in Washington that the Gorazde crisis had underlined 'how impotent the world seems if the United States is not leading'. However, he did not say what response the White House had in mind.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, denounced the Serbs for manipulating the UN to drive home their advantage in Gorazde. 'The town is at their mercy, and we are on the edge of a major humanitarian catastrophe,' he said.

Seven UN soldiers, who were apparently involved in co-ordinating Nato's air strikes last week, were evacuated from Gorazde early yesterday morning. Five other UN military observers took refuge in bunkers because of continual Serbian artillery, tank and sniper fire.

UN officials said 37 people had been killed in Serbian attacks on the town on Sunday, bringing the casualty toll since late March to 302 killed, including 41 children, and 1,072 wounded.

Inside Parliament, page 8

Rose fears tragedy, page 9

Leading article, Letters, page 15

Andrew Marr, page 17