Nato sanctions action

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The Independent Online
BRUSSELS - Nato cleared the final hurdles to air strikes in Bosnia yesterday and issued the Serbs with an ultimatum. If the siege of Sarajevo is not lifted, the alliance will be able to mount air strikes within 48 hours, writes Andrew Marshall.

'There should be no doubts about the firm determination of Nato and its member states to act so that the resolutions of the UN Security Council are respected and the suffering brought to an end,' said Manfred Worner, Nato Secretary-General. 'It is essential that the Bosnian Serbs lift without delay the siege of Sarajevo.'

Alliance ambassadors in Brussels agreed a set of criteria for deciding if the siege has been lifted, political arrangements for authorising strikes, a system for co-ordinating actions with the UN, and a range of targets.

The purpose is 'to put air power at the service of diplomacy', said Stephen Oxman, US Assistant Secretary of State. 'The question of whether air strikes will take place is now a function of Serb behaviour.'

Political deadlock between Nato's 16 nations was broken after a week of negotiations which followed a tense 12-hour meeting last week. Resistance from those countries with troops serving with the UN in Bosnia eased after talks between Nato and the UN commander in former Yugoslavia.

There are two steps which must be taken before strikes can be agreed. First Nato ambassadors must agree unanimously. A meeting can be called at 'very short notice', said a communique last night.

France, Britain and Canada had resisted moves towards air strikes. These nations, with the United States, drew up the draft of the document together, and seem reconciled to action. But it remains to be seen whether and when they give the go-ahead.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, must then authorise the first use of air power. After the first strike it is likely that he would delegate his powers, said Nato officials last night. They did not believe he would withhold approval.

The aim is to break the siege of Sarajevo. The alliance said that this meant an end to shelling and the presence of encircling Bosnian Serb positions, the unblocking of supply routes, the passage of humanitarian goods from the city's airport and restoring fuel and electricity supplies.

Aircraft are already in place at an air base in Italy, and no new forces will be required, alliance officials said. Some further planning is necessary and this will take one or two days. Targets will be within Bosnia and could include Bosnian Croats if they obstruct humanitarian operations.

Air strikes 'are limited to the support of humanitarian relief and must not be interpreted as a decision to intervene militarily in the conflict,' said the declaration.

The decision is a breakthrough for Nato, which has looked indecisive and divided until now. But a deal was only reached at the cost of giving more decision-making power to the UN than the US originally wanted, a diplomatic success for France.