Serb arms hand-over 'negligible': Dilemma for West as deadline approaches for withdrawal of weapons

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The Independent Online
THE WEST faced the choice of war or humiliation in Bosnia last night after United Nations commanders disclosed that Bosnian Serb forces besieging Sarajevo had handed only a tiny amount of their artillery to UN control. General Jean Cot, the French officer who leads UN troops in former Yugoslavia, said the amount of weaponry the Bosnian Serbs had relinquished was 'absolutely negligible'.

Nato threatened last week to bomb Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo unless they withdrew the weapons or surrendered them to UN control by midnight next Sunday. With the deadline only six days away, the West must decide whether to enforce its ultimatum to the hilt or to climb down in the face of Bosnian Serb stalling tactics.

The United States and France, the countries most instrumental in drawing up Nato's action plan, warned yesterday that they were serious about the deadline. 'I expect that the terms of the Nato agreement will be followed,' President Bill Clinton said. France's Defence Minister, Francois Leotard, added: 'On the evening of the 20th, everyone should know what can be expected to happen. No one should doubt our determination. Europe's future is being played out here.'

John Major flew to Moscow yesterday on a trip designed to prevent Russia from breaking ranks with the West over its Bosnia policy. In talks today the Prime Minister will offer Boris Yeltsin Britain's support for Russian membership of the political club attached to the G7 group of Western developed countries.

'The most important thing is whether the Russians insist there should be another Security Council resolution. That would be very difficult. If it is a request for the UN Secretary-General, we would see a way through,' said one British official

accompanying the Prime Minister.

At the UN last night Russia expressed concern that the threat to bomb combatants' artillery around Sarajevo was made by Nato and not the Security Council, and Russia's UN ambassador, Yuli Vorontsov, hinted at a resolution, saying the Council needed to take a 'proper decision' placing heavy Bosnian Serb and Muslim artillery under UN control.

It appeared that there were still significant differences within the Western alliance over what course of action to follow in the next six days. Greece, which holds the presidency of the European Union and is strongly opposed to Nato attacks on the Bosnian Serbs, is sending its Foreign Minister, Karolos Papoulias, to Belgrade today for talks with Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic.

The commander of UN peace-keepers in Sarajevo, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, said he expected the Serbs to comply 100 per cent with the Nato weapons ultimatum and he would have 'no hesitation' in calling in air strikes after the ultimatum expires if they were warranted.

Inside Parliament, page 6

Serb 'war criminal' held, page 8

Letters, page 17

Why Russia backs Serbia, page 19