Bosnia: Nato wants 'more control' on air strikes: Alliance seeks to agree aims with UN - Washington strives for coherent Balkan policy - Fighting rages in north

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NATO will decide on further air strikes in Bosnia by the end of this week, but has serious reservations about the terms of the United Nations request, alliance sources said yesterday.

Alliance ambassadors met yesterday morning and said they would press ahead with planning. 'There has been a strong convergence around the principle . . . of using air strikes to protect the safe areas,' said Sir John Weston, Britain's ambassador. There was 'an overall positive response', alliance sources said.

The ambassadors asked Nato's military authorities to draw up plans for a meeting later this week, probably tomorrow afternoon. They also said it was vital that a 'common front' be struck between the UN, Nato, the European Union and the United States. But this may be hard to achieve since each has different interests and expectations.

Yesterday Nato began efforts to clarify exactly what UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is seeking. Militarily, Nato wants 'more latitude and more flexibility' than the Secretary-General's letter suggests. 'The UN should give us the objectives and then we will look into how we execute this,' one source said.

There will also be contacts with Unprofor, the UN protection force in Bosnia, and troop-contributing countries to make clear what will happen if the UN is drawn into a broader conflict. It will be neccessary to put far more troops into the 'safe havens' than at present, a recommendation made last year but never acted upon.

As with Sarajevo, there will be a diplomatic effort to end the fighting, linked to a threat of air action. But the idea of transplanting the Sarajevo model does not hold water when applied to all six zones, alliance sources said. The three eastern zones - Gorazde, Srebrenica and Zepa - are not far enough apart to form three separate zones and are likely to be treated as one.

The conditions for targeting suggested by the Secretary-General have also raised problems. 'Artillery, mortar positions or tanks in or around the above-mentioned safe areas' which have fired at civilians are proposed. Nato wants this to include command and control centres, effectively taking the war back to the Bosnian Serbs. But it is also concerned at the suggestion that it would be forced into the position of spotting targets hours after shooting had finished.

The biggest hurdle, however, is likely to be over the command and control of operations. The letter from New York says that the North Atlantic Council should 'authorise the Commander-in-Chief of Nato's Southern Command to launch air strikes, at the request of the United Nations, against (targets) which are determined by Unprofor to be responsible for attacks against civilian targets within (safe) areas.'

In the declaration on air strikes around Sarajevo, Nato only said operations would be carried out 'in close co-ordination' with the UN and it is unlikely to go further this time. But this will raise hackles in Moscow.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's letter is effectively a criticism of Nato for not acting more swiftly to defend the safe areas and for being too independent, and it tries to bring the process under the UN. Nato is pressing for the whole operation to be under its command, working in liasion with Unprofor, with political control only in New York.

The command problem - a bone of contention between New York and Brussels almost since the inception of the Bosnia crisis - is merely a facet of a much wider political question: what are the strikes intended to achieve, beyond protecting civilians?

Nato wants to ensure that any programme of air strikes has a point, a 'political-diplomatic aim', the source said.

The alliance has been badly battered on its first outing by the failure of strikes around Gorazde, and much valuable credibility has been lost. That cannot be allowed to happen again, which means the alliance must know what it is doing, and why - conditions that were not met in last week's abortive strikes at Gorazde.