Owen says air crash may prove flashpoint

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The Independent Online
LORD OWEN, the former foreign secretary who heads the European Community's mediation efforts in the former Yugoslavia, warned yesterday that the United Nations Security Council would respond with severity if investigators concluded that an Italian plane carrying relief supplies to Sarajevo had been deliberately shot down.

'There sometimes comes a moment when the world looks at a situation and says that enough is enough. Maybe this might prove to be it,' he said. 'If this proves to be a case of a plane on a humanitarian mission shot down, then I have very little doubt that this will go to the Security Council.'

Lord Owen was speaking before Italian government ministers said in Rome that they believed the plane had been shot down. All four crewmen on Thursday's flight from Split to Sarajevo were killed.

Lord Owen said that the Security Council would probably pass a resolution insisting on a halt to all military flights over Bosnia and surrounding areas, and demanding that the warring parties place their heavy weaponry under UN supervision. 'I think it does emphasise the urgency of getting a grip on these weapons and sophisticated missiles,' he added.

Lord Owen was speaking in Geneva on the second day of a joint EC-UN conference whose tasks are to halt the fighting in Bosnia, prevent the conflict from spreading into the southern Balkans, and ensure the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid into war-ravaged areas. UN relief agencies used the occasion to launch an appeal for dollars 434m (pounds 220m) to meet needs for refugees in the former Yugoslavia.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, said the money would pay for humanitarian assistance up to next April. She said that UNHCR missions to Yugoslavia had actually reported that more than twice that sum would be needed, but she was doubtful that such a large amount could be raised. 'I am hoping governments will provide bilateral aid to make up for the shortfall,' she said.

A Bosnian representative, Zlatko Lagumdzija, said his government estimated that more than 100,000 people could die in Bosnia next winter 'even if the war were to stop this very moment'. He said that vast numbers of houses had been destroyed in Sarajevo and other places, and that many other homes would be uninhabitable in the severe Balkan winter.

'In Sarajevo most window panes are broken. Practically 400,000 people will meet the winter as though they were living on balconies,' he said. 'If the humanitarian aspects of the Geneva talks do not give quick results, then the people of Bosnia will have two wars - one against the aggressors, and the other against the winter.'

Relief officials estimate that 2.7 million people have been displaced by the fighting in the former Yugoslavia. It represents the largest refugee wave since the aftermath of the Second World War. Many refugees are victims of 'ethnic cleansing', the practice by which one ethnic group's armies and police forces expel members of an enemy ethnic group from their homes and force them to pledge never to return.

In Belgrade, the Prime Minister of the rump Yugoslav state, Milan Panic, demonstrated his growing strength over his hardline Serbian opponents by winning a parliamentary vote of confidence in his conciliatory stance at last week's international peace conference in London. Some members of the Serbian Socialist (ex-Communist) Party, which is dominated by Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, accused Mr Panic of selling out Serbia's interests, but they lost yesterday's vote by 111 to 33.

Since assuming his post two months ago, Mr Panic has sought to end Serbia's isolation in the world by promising to recognise all other former Yugoslav republics in their original borders and by offering talks with leaders of the ethnic Albanian community in the Serbian province of Kosovo. He has been increasingly at daggers drawn with Mr Milosevic, but has won support from the Yugoslav President, Dobrica Cosic, as well as the President of Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic. Montenegro has been the only republic allied to Serbia in the war.

(Photograph omitted)