Bosnia Crisis: Belgrade plays down the Nato ultimatum

NATO's ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs made headlines around the world - except in Serbia. Here, it was not reported until the 13th minute of the main television news bulletin on Friday evening, which referred to the United Nations Security Council demand for a ceasefire in Gorazde as 'another one of the numerous resolutions on Bosnia'.

The state-run media, taking their cue - or rather, their orders - from Slobodan Milosevic's government, is portraying the Gorazde crisis as a little local difficulty that should not be allowed to distract from the quest for an end to the war in Bosnia.

The renewed assault on Gorazde, 15 minutes before the start of yesterday's ceasefire, appears to be a last-minute Serbian attempt to gain full control of the right bank of the Drina river running through Gorazde, thus consolidating the besiegers' gains and further weakening the town's viability as a Muslim enclave.

Analysts in Belgrade predicted that the Serbs would end the renewed offensive shortly before the 12.01 GMT deadline last night, but refuse to withdraw their heavy weapons, calculating that Yasushi Akashi, the UN envoy who is in Belgrade for talks, would not authorise air strikes if the shelling stopped.

The only official Serbian reaction to Nato's threat came from the Foreign Minister, Vladislav Jovanovic, who said he feared that air strikes would hinder attempts to reach a peace.

He warned that military action by any of the parties - a diplomatic phrase that blithely ignored the very special relationship between Belgrdae and the Bosnian Serbs - would have a negative effect, and might well widen the scope of the conflict.

This warning was echoed by the Bosnian Serbs, who seem to be saying to the West: help us achieve the settlement we want - or else.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, who portrays the siege of Gorazde as Serbian self-defence, noted that 'the 'Gorazde crisis' may re-occur tomorrow in Tuzla or some other regions from which the Muslims can or already are launching big offensives'.

A Bosnian Serb official went further, effectively threatening to attack other Muslim areas. 'If Gorazde is not a turning point, a breaking point, then we're going to put it aside and another affair will occur at some other spot; Nato will come up with another ultimatum, and there will be another affair somewhere else for eternity,' said Dragan Davidovic, a Bosnian Serb minister.

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