Clinton 'might ease' sanctions against Serbia

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The Independent Online
The Clinton administration said yesterday that it might ease sanctions on Serbia if Bosnia's Muslim-led government rejected an international plan to divide Bosnia.

The suggestion seemed likely to spark an indignant reaction from Muslim leaders, who complain that Western countries and Russia are applying pressure on them to accept an unjust settlement.

But in Washington yesterday, the House of Representatives rejected pressure from President Clinton and his top aides, and voted to order him to end US participation in the arms embargo against Bosnia.

The House, by a vote of 244-178, approved a proposed congressional order for Mr Clinton to lift the UN ban. It then rejected, by a vote of 242- 181, a proposal that it reverse itself and only urge Mr Clinton to work with the United Nations and Nato possibly to lift the embargo.

The proposed congressional order would have to be approved by the Senate and then signed by Mr Clinton to become law.

'US action to lift the embargo would bring the peace process to an end,' Mr Clinton told the House in a letter.

The Clinton administration's initiative on Serbian sanctions was disclosed in Istanbul, where the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and other Nato foreign ministers were holding a meeting. A senior US official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said that the United States, Russia and the European Union would soon present their version of a post-war Bosnian map to the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim-led government.

'In the highly unlikely event the government rejects it, we will consider lifting some sanctions against the Serbs,' the official said. He added that, if the Muslims accepted the plan and the Serbs rejected it, the US would urge its allies to lift the United Nations arms embargo on the Bosnian government.

UN sanctions were imposed on rump Yugoslavia, grouping Serbia and Montenegro, for its role in instigating the 26-month-old Bosnian war. Some European countries have long advocated a gradual removal of sanctions in return for Serbian acceptance of a peace deal.

Although the US official was optimistic that the Muslims would not turn down the Western-Russian plan, much evidence suggests otherwise.

The Clinton administration has generally shied away from supporting proposals that appear to discriminate against the Muslims, and President Clinton has said that his personal preference is to lift the UN arms embargo. However, the administration has gradually modified its policies under pressure from Russia, France and Britain, which contend that the Muslims should make peace now and drop the idea of reversing all Serbian territorial gains.

A one-month truce is due to take effect in Bosnia today, but UN officials reported intense shelling between Serbian and Muslim-led forces in the Maglaj region of north- central Bosnia. The official Bosnian Serb news agency, SRNA, said the truce was 'merely a one-month calm before an unprecedented storm and a prelude to total conflict'.