West finally lays down law to Serbs

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The Independent Online
THE WEST will this week send a clear warning to the Bosnian Serbs that any further aggression will be met with massive air attacks. But as fighting continued around Bosnian Muslim redoubts, it was uncertain whether the message would have any impact.

British sources said yesterday that an uncompromising message will be delivered in person by a diplomat in the next few days. The ultimatum on behalf of Britain, France and the US will spell out in detail the consequences of each form of aggression, leaving the Serbs in no doubt what to expect from the allies. A British source said: "It will be unmistakable and will deal in specific terms about what will happen in specific cases, relating to Gorazde." On the last similar occasion, a message was delivered by the British charge d'affaires in Belgrade, Ivor Roberts, to the Bosnian Serb vice-president.

Senior Nato officials met yesterday afternoon to kick-start the process that was launched by Friday's meeting in London. There are three elements to the Nato strategy, which is expected to be agreed on Monday: to attack and remove Bosnian Serb air defences, which have hampered alliance air patrols over Bosnia since last year; to mount strikes against any Bosnian Serb forces that attack Gorazde; and, if these forces press on, to attack other targets beyond Gorazde, including those not directly involved in the offensive, such as command and control sites.

There is still scepticism about whether the alliance will be able to press ahead with a plan that would represent a huge change of direction. It was decided over a year ago to defend Gorazde but, said one source, "there's never been the political will to do so". There is still great concern about the possibility of hostage-taking by the Bosnian Serbs that might follow air strikes. The UN and Nato will also have to work out how to reform the "dual key" system for approving air strikes. "The key must be turned and stay turned," said a source.

There is little sign so far that the Bosnian Serbs are preparing to back down. Their commander, General Ratko Mladic, warned yesterday that his forces were prepared to seize other UN "safe areas" - including Bihac in the northwest "and also Sarajevo if need be" - unless government troops stopped launching attacks.

After a meeting in Split last night between the Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, and the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, Zagreb announced it had agreed to a request by the Bosnian government for urgent military assistance, particularly in the area of Bihac on the Croatian border. While winning sympathy for the assistance to Bosnia, the declaration also enables Croatia to take back more of the nearly one-third of its territory lost to rebel Serbs in 1991.

Fierce fighting continued in the UN "safe area" of Zepa, on the verge of falling to the Bosnian Serbs since Wednesday.

Reporter freed, page 2

Analysis, pages 18 & 19

Leading article, page 24