Bildt fears worse clashes in Balkans

Bosnia crisis: EU mediator predicts that fighting will intensify.
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The Independent Online

Europe Editor


Defence Correspondent

The European Union's new mediator in former Yugoslavia, Carl Bildt, yesterday predicted more fighting in the region, despite renewed EU efforts at a diplomatic breakthrough.

"In my view, we are more likely to head for war than peace in the immediate period ahead. But we have a duty to do whatever we can do, however slim the chance is," he said at the EU summit in Cannes.

EU leaders set Mr Bildt the tasks of negotiating an end to the 38-month- old Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo, opening an aid corridor from the Bosnian capital to the Adriatic Sea, brokering a four-month ceasefire, and arranging the official recognition by Serbia of Croatia and Bosnia in their pre- war borders. But Mr Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, held out little hope that the EU would achieve these goals in the short term.

President Jacques Chirac of France said the EU was planning vigorous diplomatic measures to accompany a more robust United Nations posture in Bosnia, symbolised by the 10,000-strong Anglo-French-Dutch Rapid-Reaction Force that is intended to be operational by mid-July. The UN has looked anything but robust in recent weeks as the Bosnian Serb army has forced the collapse of the UN-patrolled heavy-weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo.

The British commander of UN troops in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, sent a letter on Monday to the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, complaining about Serb attacks on UN personnel and "safe areas". However, there were more such attacks yesterday, according to UN officials.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, sensing that the Rapid-Reaction Force will have much more ambitious objectives than Western governments first suggested, said he would not consider it a hostile army. "If they don't attack us, we are not going to consider them as our enemy," he said.

The US is sending unmanned spy planes to reinforce Nato surveillance over the former Yugoslavia. The Predator unmanned reconnaissance vehicles will be based at Gjader airfield in Albania, initially for 60 days, although the Pentagon said they would be kept there longer if needed.

The Bosnian Serbs' unexpected success in bringing down a US F-16 fighter on 2 June is one incentive to use unmanned drones for reconnaissance. Another is the desire to avoid further hostages being taken, although the Serbs did not succeed in capturing the US pilot, Captain Scott O'Grady. The recent Bosnian government initiatives around Sarajevo have underlined the need for the UN to have an accurate picture of what is going on, although Nato and the UN do not always share intelligence.

The Predator, which entered service with the US forces this year, can stay aloft for 24 hours at a time, cruising at up to 25,000ft as far as 580 miles from its base, providing continuous pictures through a satellite link. The drones could also monitor arms shipments being made in defiance of the embargo.