The Sarajevo Bombing: Pressure grows for Nato action

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The Independent Online
BRUSSELS - The European Union and Nato will be under intense pressure this week to bite the bullet and approve air strikes in Bosnia. Today's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels comes at a time when, in both institutions, there is momentum building for a shift in policy but little consensus about what direction to take.

The priority for today's meeting had been to get the peace negotiations in Geneva restarted. There is a 'window of opportunity' in Bosnia, according to officials and diplomats in Brussels. This does not mean the situation is propitious for peace - far from it. But there is 'one last chance' to push for a peace deal. If it does not work, then the indications are that a major extension of the fighting is likely.

The idea of international arbitration will probably be used to try to revive the negotiations, which restart on Wednesday, and in particular to try to persuade the Bosnian government that there are other ways to achieve their aims than the continuation of the war. The meeting will also seek to put pressure on the US to assist in a deal by leaning on the Bosnian Muslims, something it has resisted. France is also likely to propose a new diplomatic offensive.

All this, however, will be overshadowed by calls for air strikes. These have always been kept in reserve, with repeated threats of military intervention but no action.

Today's meeting will probably again brandish the threat of the use of air power, but decisions will have to await a meeting of Nato members, likely to take place this week. There is sufficient consensus - both in the EU and in Nato - for a limited use of airpower, according to sources in Brussels. Even before Saturday's atrocity, officials said this was on the cards, but for defensive purposes only. Using air power for punitive action is a very different thing, they stress, and there is no consensus over this.

If a Nato meeting is held following the EU gathering, it is a high-risk move. It is clear to all states involved that there can be no more empty words. The threat of the use of force is itself becoming dangerous, Nato sources say.

They point out that when Nato originally raised the prospect of air strikes to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo, there was a marked impact. Shelling was reduced, aid supplies flowed more freely, electricity supplies increased. When the threat was made again at the Nato summit on 11 January, the same effects were not felt, according to intelligence information. The conclusion has been that threats of force are of declining use.

This week's debates will be highly charged and divisive. There remain severe doubts about the wisdom of broader intervention, in any form, in the key capitals - London, Washington and Paris - and differences between them.

Divisions with the US seem increasingly evident. After its advocacy of 'lift and strike' - removing the arms embargo against the Bosnian government and mounting air strikes - was rebuffed by the Europeans, Washington has become more wary. It is believed that at least one more US official may resign over the issue, further underlining the discontent in policy-making circles.

The Europeans are leaning on the US administration to ease its public support for the Muslims, which they claim is prolonging the war, and instead apply pressure for a deal. They also want more pressure on the Muslim states that have supported the Bosnian government financially, militarily and morally. Otherwise, they say, there can be no diplomatic solution.

(Photograph omitted)

Robert Fisk, page 14