Bush 'threatens force against Serbia'

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PRESIDENT George Bush sent a message to the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, last week warning him that 'in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the United States will be prepared to employ military force against the Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia proper,' according to the New York Times.

The White House and the State Department both refused to comment on the report, but the State Department spokesman, Joe Snyder, said the US was 'deeply concerned about the situation in Kosovo. We have discussed this with other governments and our concerns are widely shared in the international community.'

The Yugoslav delegation to peace talks in Geneva showed a copy of the Bush letter to reporters. The Yugoslav President, Dobrica Cosic, did not allude to it directly yesterday but said: 'I am certain that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, if attacked - and I don't believe that it will be attacked - will have to . . . defend itself.'

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, pledged yesterday that United Nations monitors could have full access to Serbian aircraft in Bosnia to satisfy themselves that the Serbs were not flying combat missions. In a letter to John Major, he said it should be clear from UN reports and US surveillance operations that there had been no Serbian combat missions since mid-October. 'I propose that monitors be specifically allocated to each aircraft, that they have full access to these aircraft, and that in the event that these aircraft have to fly, for whatever reason, they will be allowed to travel on board. This access will be unrestricted and on a 24-hour-per-day basis,' he said.

Mr Karadzic's letter was prompted by concern that Western countries, led by the United States, are about to endorse the use of force to keep Serbian aircraft grounded in Bosnia. Lawrence Eagleburger, the US Secretary of State, said yesterday that the US wanted the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to this effect by the end of this week. Mr Karadzic warned last week that, if the resolution were passed, the Bosnian Serbs could regard UN personnel in the republic as legitimate military targets.

A Downing Street spokesman offered no comment on Mr Karadzic's proposals and said the issue of how to enforce the air exclusion zone in Bosnia was still under discussion.

Western military experts accept that the Serbs have flown no combat missions in the last two months, but point out that the Bosnian Serb forces depend on helicopter flights carrying weapons and supplies from Serbia. Experts believe that the Bosnian Serbs' position in and around their headquarters, Banja Luka, could become vulnerable if the helicopter route is cut off and if Muslim forces continue to make inroads into Serbian-controlled areas.

The US has begun to advocate swift punitive action against the Bosnian Serbs, partly because it wants to head off the prospect of intervention by Islamic powers. President Bush's National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, said the US wanted 'to take out aircraft on the ground rather than to chase helicopters up and down the valleys'.

Islamic states have threatened to supply the Bosnian Muslims with military assistance from 15 January. Reacting to this, the Croatian leader, Franjo Tudjman, said yesterday: 'There is a realistic danger that this war might spill over and assume an undesirable scale that could threaten global peace.'