US takes action over Serbian 'war crimes'

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The Independent Online
The United States began consultations with its allies yesterday on the use of force, including air power and other measures, to protect deliveries of humanitarian supplies to, and prevent further atrocities against, the civilian population of Bosnia.

The acting Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, also said yesterday that the US was taking immediate action against Serbia for 'war crimes,' and the US called for an emergency meeting of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission to act on reports that Bosnian civilians were being rounded up into concentration camps and executed. The US has demanded Red Cross access to camps that it has not been allowed to visit, and is tightening sanctions against Serbia by deploying monitors in Romania. Information on war crimes will handed to the Security Council for further action.

The US plan for military action, which is an admission that the United Nations peacekeeping mission has failed, raised British concerns that the entire UN humanitarian operation of getting food and medicine into Sarajevo by air and overland could be jeopardised. 'There is a danger,' one diplomat said 'of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.'

The British feel confident, however, that although they will not block the US plan, it is a long way from being adopted by the Security Council. The Russians, unwilling to adopt any measure against fellow Slavs, will raise their usual objections; the Chinese, who would fall into line only if the other four permanent members were in agreement, would then also resist the move.

The escalation in fighting in Sarajevo yesterday caused a UN spokesman on the ground to threaten a complete withdrawal. In practice, however, it would be politically impossible for the UN to pull its peacekeeping force out of the city at this stage and leave Bosnian civilians to their fate, according to senior officials in New York.

The US plan for military action will be put to the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, today. He has expressed opposition to deeper UN involvement in Bosnia, but indicated that he would give his blessing to an operation involving European forces, whether from Nato or the Western European Union.

Washington has concluded that the only way to avoid a deepening humanitarian disaster is to use a military umbrella to safeguard overland aid convoys. President George Bush appears to have been panicked into modifiying his hands-off policy by the attacks his presidential rival, Bill Clinton, has been making on US policy over the former Yugoslavia.

However, the US plan falls far short of the direct military intervention against the Serbian side demanded by the Bosnian government. It contemplates the use of force strictly for humanitarian reasons, and there is no prospect of Bosnia being exempted from the UN arms embargo.

Reports of atrocities against civilians held in Serbian camps have resonated widely in the US, and Mr Clinton has been quick to draw comparisons with the Second World War. 'If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralysed in the face of genocide,' he said in a statement issued at his headquarters.

Bosnia's UN ambassador, Muhamed Sacirbey, has circulated a list of 105 Serbian-controlled concentration camps to the Security Council and asked for 'all necessary steps' to be taken to safeguard the detainees.

The US has set a deadline of next Monday afternoon for action to be taken by members of the UN Human Rights Commission, although little concrete action is expected because no international organisations have first-hand evidence of such atrocities.

The UN has received numerous reports of acts of genocide and human rights abuse by Bosnians and Serbs, but has done nothing to verify the claims. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has visited nine detention centres in Bosnia and registered some 4,000 detainees, many elderly women and children. But if it has been informed of executions and torture, the ICRC, as is its practice, has chosen not to publicise such reports but to work through diplomatic channels.