US gets tougher over Serbia

Click to follow
THE United States has toughened its stance against Serbia, saying it will demand enforcement of a military 'no-fly zone' over Bosnia, and indicating a greater readiness to exempt the poorly equipped Bosnian Muslims from the United Nations arms embargo against all the republics of the former Yugoslavia.

The shift was disclosed by Lawrence Eagleburger, the Secretary of State, on his way to the European Security conference which opens in Stockholm today, and where international moves to tackle the ever-worsening Bosnian crisis will be the top item on the agenda. The situation in the Balkans, he said, was a disaster too big to 'simply ignore and leave to the next Administration'.

In fact some prodding from Little Rock may well have helped sharpen his views. On Friday, Bill Clinton, the President-elect, publicly urged Mr Bush to 'turn up the heat a little', albeit leaving the US free from full-scale involvement on the ground in Bosnia.

Doubts remain about the attitude of key allies such as Britain and France, while the UN commander in the former Yugoslavia has warned that full-scale Western military intervention could wreck the humanitarian programme. Mr Eagleburger declined to confirm Mr Clinton's claim on Friday that Britain and France were moving towards accepting enforcement of the no-fly zone.

Even so, he said President Bush - now armed with cross-party consensus at home - would ask the UN Security Council to give the go-ahead for enforcement. Possible measures already examined include shooting down Serbian planes which continue to violate the ban, or bombing Serbian airfields.

Mr Eagleburger also indicated he will press for separate moves to prevent the Balkan war spreading into the Serbian province of Kosovo, something which could ignite an international conflagration involving Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and beyond.

'Bosnia, tragic and awful as it is, is essentially a containable struggle,' he was quoted as saying, but war in Kosovo would be 'qualitatively different'.

One possibility is a joint western or UN statement this week warning Serbia not to carry the conflict to Kosovo, whose population is overwhelmingly Albanian. Mr Eagleburger insisted the US would not go it alone, but only on the strength of a Security Council resolution backed by the world community.

In a sign that consensus in Britain is growing in favour of enforcing the no-fly zone, Cyril Townsend, vice-chairman of the Tory backbench foreign affairs committee, said he had changed his view and now supported more action.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, said in Bosnia yesterday that the fighting there could lead to the annihilation of the republic's Muslim community. 'The question is whether or not that is politically tolerable,' he said at the British army base in Vitez. 'My view is that it is not. The geopolitical implications of that could be immense.'