Decision in days on Bosnia: Air strikes increasingly likely - Warren Christopher prepares to visit London and Paris - Belgrade braced for effects of sanctions

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The Independent Online
AS Lord Owen warned that confrontation in Bosnia was now 'inevitable', it emerged that Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, would visit London and Paris within the next few days to liaise on further action over the crisis in the former Yugoslav republic.

Diplomatic sources said no firm decision had yet been reached among the allies, or even within the US administration itself, about whether to take further action now or allow the new sanctions against Serbia time to take effect. But the decision was due to be taken within days, after which Mr Christopher will visit European capitals to discuss implementation.

Further action could entail one of two alternatives: lifting the arms embargo to allow Bosnian Muslims to arm themselves - an option floated by the Americans but heavily opposed by London and Paris - or air strikes against Serbian targets on the ground in Bosnia - favoured by the British as the lesser of two evils.

The latter option itself presents a choice: whether such a decision requires a new resolution by the UN Security Council. A difference was beginning to emerge yesterday between the French and the British on the answer to that question. The French insist that a new resolution would indeed be required; the British argue that the answer depends on the objective. If the aim is to place further international pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to sign the Vance-Owen peace plan, it is preferable to do so through strictly legally correct means; if, on the other hand, the aim is to achieve a military objective, such as disrupting a supply route, it may be preferable to launch the strike without waiting for a new resolution, and devise a legal justification afterwards.

Lord Owen, the EC mediator, yesterday began a tour of EC capitals to brief government leaders only hours after his peace plan was rejected by the Bosnian Serbs. 'I think that confrontation is now inevitable and it will be faced up to by the world community,' he said. 'A lot depends on the response of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,' he added. 'Whether . . . they are prepared to take action themselves against the Serbs.' After talks with Lord Owen the Danish Foreign Minister, Niels Helveg Petersen, said the EC would discuss with the UN the calling of international talks to help end the fighting in Bosnia.

In Washington, President Bill Clinton said that the United States and its allies must come up with a 'stronger policy' on Bosnia. The White House announced that Mr Clinton had signed an executive order to tighten sanctions on the former Yugoslavia. The order freezes all US business activity in Serbia and Montenegro and blocks Yugoslav assets in the US.

Asked whether Mr Clinton was frustrated with the allies, his spokeswoman said he was frustrated by the situation in general. 'We don't have a specific time line, but . . . I think the President has made clear that he wants to move forward on this rather quickly,' she said.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said on a visit to Finland that various 'semi-military options' were being considered but they all had disadvantages. 'There is clearly a growing feeling that economic and financial pressures, though very important, may not be entirely sufficient,' he said. 'No one is suggesting that the international community send a military force to impose a solution and sustain it.' Instead, he said, 'we must use all our efforts to build up these sanctions on the Danube, on the Adriatic, on land frontiers and in the financial world . . . as quickly as possible.'

The suggestion of air strikes, whether accompanied by a new resolution or not, is bound to encounter strong opposition from hardliners in Moscow. The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, urged strong international action to halt the fighting, but did not say whether Moscow would support air strikes. 'It is a new stage in this drama and new steps must be taken - very radical and very strong steps.'

(Photograph omitted)