Bosnian Serbs face new threat of air strikes

United Nations forces made public a tougher policy against the Bosnian Serbs yesterday, warning that they would call in Nato air strikes if civilians were attacked in the mainly Muslim UN "safe areas". At the same time, representatives of the five-power Contact Group, comprising the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, met in London to examine proposals for lifting UN sanctions on Serbia in exchange for Serbian recognition of Bosnia and Croatia.

Diplomats said there was a sense of urgency about the London meeting, as fighting in Bosnia had increased in the past week and all but buried a four-month ceasefire due to expire on 1 May.

"We are at a very dangerous moment," the European Union's mediator, Lord Owen, said. "If we go into a major battle this summer, it will be very hard to keep the United Nations in Bosnia into the next winter."

The UN announcement on air strikes struck a different note from that sounded last year by Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the former UN commander in Bosnia. He at first countenanced Nato attacks on Bosnian Serb targets but ended up believing they undermined the UN's neutrality and jeopardised peace-keeping operations.

His successor, Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, has made it known that a firmer approach is in the offing. Colum Murphy, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo, said: "There is some change. If necessary, this commander is going to take very forceful action."

The announcement may have been prompted by the fact that Bosnian Serb forces have shelled four UN "safe areas" - Sarajevo, Bihac, Tuzla and Gorazde - in the past week. The UN acknowledges that Muslim-led Bosnian government forces sometimes provoke such incidents by using "safe areas" as bases to attack Serb targets.

The latest fighting appears to have brought Muslim gains in the Tuzla and Travnik areas of northern and central Bosnia. Bosnian Serb officers say the Muslim-led forces, under-armed at the start of the war in 1992, now have more weapons and ammunition.

The Contact Group, exploiting a rift between President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and the Bosnian Serb leadership, hopes to persuade Mr Milosevic to recognise Bosnia in its pre-war borders, increasing pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to accept a peace settlement. France's Foreign Minister, Alain Jupp, expressed optimism last week that this was possible, saying: "Mutual recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [Serbia and Montenegro] is a goal within our reach and should come about before the end of April."

Mutual recognition between Serbia and Croatia seems a more remote prospect, because Mr Milosevic says the status of the Serb-held part of Croatia known as the Krajina is unresolved. The Western powers and Russia have proposed that Croatian Serbs receive broad autonomy, but it appears that Mr Milosevic is holding out for more in Croatia - possibly including a revision of borders in Serbia's favour - than in Bosnia.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links