Nato 'to keep up pressure of attack'

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BEHIND the flurry of sharp US warnings to the Bosnian Serbs that they could face Nato air strikes unless they abandoned two mountains near Sarajevo, a longer-term plan of action is taking shape in Washington and London to keep Serbian forces under the constant threat of attack, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

While the United States and its allies wait to see if the Serbs withdraw from the mountains, contingency plans are being drawn up by the Western allies for raising the level of the threat against the Serbs. This will be done by issuing ultimatums to withdraw from certain locations within a given time. 'It is the next step, but we are only at the discussion level right now,' said one diplomatic source.

The kind of ultimatum under discussion would change the nature of the air strikes' trigger from one in which the Serbs commit some hostile act to an unprovoked order for them to withdraw. A list of possible warnings was contained in a recent speech by Senator Joe Biden who has long advocated air strikes to halt the Serbian advance. He suggested the UN should issue ultimatums requiring the Serbs to withdraw all heavy weapons to specific locations out of range of Sarajevo; withdraw all ground forces from hills around Sarajevo and in the west to a point three miles from the airport; and to withdraw all anti-aircrft systems along the western flight path to the airport.

'We are not yet at Mr Biden's positions,' said a US diplomat, 'but if the Serbs don't respond, we're going to act.' If the allies begin issuing unprovoked ultimatums, they will come not in a long list, but one by one, the source said, 'because if we made a list we might leave some things out'.

The new planning represents a shift in US rhetoric. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said last week: 'We've concluded it is in our national interest to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo in conjunction with our allies.' Three weeks ago, he said the US had done all it could consistent with its national interest, without defining what that was. General John Shalikashvili, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is believed to favour a stronger line on Bosnia.

Officials in Washington have said that the 'national interest' is largely humanitarian, and that it would only become of strategic importance if the Bosnian war spilled over into a wider Balkan conflict.

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