Gunboat diplomacy aimed at Serbian leader

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The Independent Online
USING a combination of gunboat diplomacy and heavy-handed international political pressure, a concerted international effort is being made to topple the Serbian regime led by President Slobodan Milosevic, and to restrain Croatia's leader, Franjo Tudjman, from proceeding with a carve-up of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The decision to send naval units from Nato and the Western European Unit (WEU) to the Adriatic has more to do with forcing a change of regime in Belgrade through old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy, diplomatic sources say, than it has with enforcing sanctions. 'We see it as a political gesture more than a practical one, there's not much sanctions- busting by sea,' a senior diplomatic aide said yesterday.

Lord Carrington has made it clear that he wants a change of regime in Belgrade as soon as possible. After briefing the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday, he said: 'If there was a change of regime I think a number of problems would be easier and there are indications from Belgrade that the opposition is more active and that a move is possible.' Calls for Mr Milosevic's overthrow are expected to intensify as the focus turns to the human rights abuses of his regime, in particular its policy of 'ethnic cleansing'.

Despite all the military moves afoot and the talk of establishing land corridors to Bosnia, the international community is a long way from deciding to go to war to get humanitarian aid into Sarajevo and prevent a carve-up between Croatia and Serbia.

The UN is worried that a military operation could jeopardise its strictly humanitarian role in Sarajevo and along Croatia's western border. Reflecting a fear that the forces assembling along the Adriatic might be used for combat missions rather than sabre-rattling and enforcing sanctions against Serbia, the head of the UN mission in Sarajevo, General Lewis Mackenzie, said yesterday: 'The best way to do anything in the world is by using diplomacy and political persuasion, and please leave military force as a last resort.

'If it is required to use military force to open corridors and either side resists that then you have an extremely demanding military challenge . . . We're talking about wild . . . terrain, God-given to any type of guerrilla operation.'

The UN is once again becoming involved in peace negotiations in Yugoslavia following months on the sidelines as the EC peace conference produced failure after failure. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary-General, has recognised that, with UN forces on the ground, it is impossible to separate the peace-keeping role from the peace-making functions being handled by the EC.

The format is not expected to change, nor is the role of Lord Carrington, at least until EC foreign ministers meet at the end of the month. Lord Carrington is urgently trying to persuade the various Yugoslav leaders to travel to London to negotiate. He fears that unless Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, attends, he will soon be in charge of a city state no larger than San Marino.

The carve-up of Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia is proceeding, even as the UN is congratulating itself on having organised humanitarian flights into Sarajevo while remaining outside the negotiating process.

The ad hoc naval flotilla will patrol an area where, diplomats freely admit, sanctions-busting is not a problem. The aim of the Nato and WEU armada is to bring further pressure on President Milosevic to resign. 'People are finally coming out of the closet about the harm he is doing and the fact that there will not be progress until he is removed,' one diplomat said yesterday.

The warships in the Adriatic will not enforce the UN sanctions against Serbia, but will 'monitor' the area in what diplomats say is a 'political gesture' directed at Belgrade. But while Britain and the United States are determined not to become involved in hostilities against Serbian forces, other nations, such as Italy, are talking about military action to establish land corridors to carry aid to besieged Bosnians.

Securing these corridors would take tens of thousands of troops, according to a British assessment, and heavy casualties would be inevitable in the mountainous terrain. The US agrees with this but, as the Serbian side carries out its 'ethnic cleansing', it is widely recognised in New York that using UN peace-keepers to bring in humanitarian aid will not be enough if the Bosnian Muslims are not protected as well.

(Photograph omitted)