Allies weigh politics of air strikes: As the deadline given to Bosnian Serbs approaches, the chain of command is being refined for swift decisions on action

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The Independent Online
IF THE Bosnian Serbs have not removed their mortars and artillery from the Nato-imposed exclusion zone around Sarajevo by Sunday's deadline, it does not mean bombs will automatically begin falling on Serbian positions at one minute past midnight on Monday morning. However, once the decision to use air strikes has been taken, Nato planes would be on target within a few minutes.

While all parties involved in planning the air strikes, including the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, are apparently determined to act if Serbian stragglers are found in the exclusion zone, there is a tricky political decision to be taken. If most of the guns have been removed, does Nato allow a few more hours, or send the planes in anyway? As that problem was being mulled over at the United Nations in New York, in Washington and other Nato- country capitals yesterday, it became clear how the chain of command would work if the Serbs fail to comply with the deadline.

Evidence of such a failure would be picked up either by Awacs aircraft patrolling Bosnian skies or by spotters on the ground and filed to Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, commander of UN forces in Bosnia. He would pass his request for air strikes to General Jean Cot, overall commander of UN forces in the former Yugoslavia, who would request authority from Mr Boutros- Ghali's local political representative, Yasushi Akashi. Under the plan, Mr Akashi has authority delegated to him by the UN Secretary- General to order the first air strikes, but he would certainly get in touch with Mr Boutros-Ghali, if only as a formality.

Assuming Mr Akashi agrees, General Cot would discuss the type of strikes needed with Admiral Jeremy Boorda, who heads Nato forces in southern Europe and who is in command of Nato planes in bases in Italy and on aircraft carriers that would be used for the bombing. Planes from these bases are controlled by the Allies Tactical Air Force and have been patrolling Bosnian skies, armed and ready to attack, for months.

If the general and the admiral could not agree on what to do, the decision would be sent back to higher authority, which means the North Atlantic Council and the UN Secretary-General. This move is unlikely unless there is some grey area over Serbian intentions, or the Serbs request extra time at the last minute.

Once the first strikes have been executed, General Cot, being advised by General Rose, is, according to the current plan, allowed to continue to use strikes as he deems fit, until either Mr Boutros-Ghali or the North Atlantic Council, or both together, call a halt.

SARAJEVO - Bosnian Serb leaders yesterday rejected demands for the withdrawal of their guns, AFP reports.

The Bosnian Serb military leader, Ratko Mladic, told the Tanjug news agency that his weapons would not be withdrawn in line with the Nato deadline. But the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, speaking in his stronghold in Pale, outside Sarajevo, said he was ready to order the regrouping of 'part' of his heavy artillery 'in order to facilitate monitoring' by UN peace-keepers.

(Photographs omitted)