Tough talk from US on air strikes

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The Independent Online
WESTERN governments were yesterday trying to cobble together a definitive plan for air strikes against growing opposition from peacekeepers, mediators and at least one Nato member, writes Annika Savill.

The concerns were voiced as Nato's military committee was due to meet today to prepare for Monday's council of ambassadors, charged with making a final decision on whether to implement the US strike proposals. Only then will the 16 Nato members, who must be unanimous in any decision, put their cards on the table.

The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, warned rebel Serbs they must stop 'strangling' Sarajevo or face military action. After talks with Nato Secretary-General Manfred Worner , Mr Christopher said a final decision should be taken on Monday.

But Denmark appeared to be considering blocking the move after its Foreign Minister, Niels Helveg Peterson, said: 'My opinion here and now, based among other things on remarks by Lord Owen, is that bombing would disturb the peace process.'

In Sarajevo, General Francis Briquemont, a Belgian, voiced concern for the UN troops he commands: 'I am here and have to take account of the real situation on the ground. It is easier to make threats than to carry them out.'

In Geneva, Lord Owen said after the break- up of two weeks of talks with the warring parties: 'The most striking thing is that up until the air strikes came dominating in front of everybody . . . we had a better dialogue than at any time in the last year.'

General Colin Powell, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to mollify European concerns by describing any air action as 'limited' and ruling out immediate bombing. Force 'must always be used with a clear political purpose in mind', he told ITN. It 'should not be used out of frustration'.

Sources said that any operation will be a UN-Nato one, co-ordinated by Nato's Southern Commander, Admiral Mike Boorda - an American - and the Commander of the UN Protection Force, General Jean Cot - a Frenchman. The formula takes in two countries at opposite ends of the argument; while the US had insisted Nato should be the sole planners, France - which has the bulk of UN troops on the ground - successfully pressed for Unprofor, in the shape of its general, to be heavily involved to protect their safety.