EC puts Belgrade to the test on Bosnia

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EUROPE MOVED yet further away from the prospect of taking military action in Yugoslavia yesterday, preferring instead to help Belgrade in its self-appointed task of isolating the Bosnian Serbs.

'The emphasis must now be on Slobodan Milosevic . . . we must test that he goes on applying pressure,' said Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, while admitting he, like other European Community foreign ministers, who were meeting in Brussels, remained sceptical as to whether the Serbian leader could deliver all he promised. 'It must be made clear that the Serbs are not going to be allowed quietly to enjoy all the territory taken by force and I think it is becoming apparent even to them,' Mr Hurd said.

The 12 ministers suggested that civilian observers - including Americans and Russians - might be sent to monitor Belgrade's efforts to enforce its border blockade of the 48 crossing points from Serbia into Bosnia.

The EC remains committed to doing all it can to enforce UN-resolution 824, designating six safe zones, but all members are agreed that to secure them by force would go beyond the existing UN mandate. A proposal by Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, that non-Europeans - primarily the Americans and Russians - be invited to join the UN peace- keeping effort won unanimous support but there has been no contact with Moscow or Washington.

The fact that the declared ceasefire in eastern Bosnia was yesterday still holding has reinforced the EC in its belief that a political solution continues to be possible, while the resurgence of Muslim-Croat fighting in Mostar makes it ever more unlikely the Europeans could respond to Washington's insistence that the arms embargo be lifted to enable the Bosnian Muslims to arm themselves.

The Danish Foreign Minister, Niels Helvig Petersen, who presided, said: 'We have not excluded other options if needs be, but are all agreed that any subsequent action must be multi-lateral and under UN auspices.' Sanctions against Serbia will be maintained and Croatia will be warned that renewed aggression will not be tolerated.

Lord Owen, who reported to the foreign ministers earlier in the day, told a press conference the Croatians had mis-interpreted the peace plan. 'There is no sense in which provinces are to be made the sole preserve of one group. The Croatian authorities, for example, are going to have to learn to live in partnership.'

Meanwhile, the US, shifting position, said it would delay a final decision on military action in Bosnia at the request of European allies who want to wait for the results of a Bosnian Serb referendum later this week.