End arms ban, Clinton urges: The West is agonising again over giving the Muslims the firepower to defend themselves - while a carve-up threatens to shatter their state

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The Independent Online
A LEAKED letter from President Bill Clinton shows that he remains committed to lifting the arms embargo in Bosnia, despite the opposition of America's allies.

As EC foreign ministers met the collective Bosnian presidency in Brussels for talks yesterday, Mr Clinton's letter to Turkey's President, Suleyman Demirel, added fresh impetus to the move to lift the ban, which has denied the Bosnian Muslims heavy weapons.

In the letter of 21 June, Mr Clinton said the embargo, put in place at the start of the conflict, had 'the unintended consequence of freezing a vast disparity in arms, and of severely constraining the Bosnian government's ability to defend itself'.

He said the US 'continues to believe that the UN Security Council should selectively lift the embargo so that arms may be shipped to the Bosnian government'. This, Mr Clinton hoped, would lead to a negotiated settlement, rather than the bloodbath predicted by John Major and other European leaders.

A UN motion that the ban be lifted will be considered on Tuesday. Britain, France and Russia want to keep it.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, warned yesterday that a lifting of the embargo would be equivalent to signing the Muslims' death warrant.

Dr Karadzic said they would be 'totally exterminated. The Bosnian Serbs and Croats would strike with all their forces - the world should be aware of that'.

He said he was 'convinced' the latest plan to divide Bosnia into three ethnic states would bring an end to the conflict.

The pressure on the UN over the former Yugoslavia was highlighted yesterday when the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, threatened to pull UN troops out of Croatia in three months' time if their safety continued to be endangered.

'I do not believe that it would be a worthwhile use of the limited resources of the United Nations to maintain a peace-keeping operation where it had become clear that there was no peace to keep,' he said in a report obtained by Reuters. He said UN personnel were targeted by all sides, with 25 deaths and 245 injuries over the past 14 months.

If the arms embargo goes, Bosnia's Muslims will, for the first time since the war began 18 months ago, be given the arms they need to defend themselves against the Serbs and Croats. It will also clear the way for the UN to scale down its entire humanitarian operation, which, although it has saved innumerable civilian lives, has done little to prevent 'ethnic cleansing' of Bosnian towns and villages.

An indication that a plan was needed that would at least temporarily satisfy the Muslims was given added urgency by the warning from Bosnia's Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, that Europe would face a wave of terrorist attacks if the war continued.

Seven members of Bosnia's presidency who met EC ministers said yesterday that they had agreed to a carve-up of the country. The seven, who insisted that they had the authority to make decisions, promised that they would first consult President Alija Izetbegovic and Mr Ganic, both of whom have called the plan genocide and refused to discuss it.

Fikret Abdic, a political rival of President Izetbegovic, said the collective presidency had reached outline agreement on the basics of the carve-up, but that talk of creating three confederated states had not been agreed. The Muslims also need guarantees of access to the Adriatic if their state is to be viable, and that must be negotiated with Croatia.

Yesterday seven people were killed when a single artillery shell smashed into the old town district of Sarajevo, Muslim radio said. City mortuary officials confirmed the casualties and said they were all teenagers who had been out in the streets during the evening.

The besieged central Bosnian town of Zepce was in flames as Muslims and Croats clashed.

(Photograph omitted)