UN and Nato fail to agree on air strikes

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The Independent Online
AN UNUSUAL top-level meeting yesterday between senior officials from Nato, the United States and the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia appears to have done little to resolve the long-running dispute about the use of force in Bosnia.

After two hours of talks in the Croatian port of Split, the US Defense Secretary, William Perry, said the alliance and the UN had agreed to invoke a 'more robust' use of air power in the region.

Mr Perry said that Nato would ask the UN for clear guidelines for air strikes against Bosnian Serbs. 'Nato governments will ask the UN to clarify the circumstances which will be considered provocation by the Bosnian Serbs and therefore subject to air strikes,' he said.

But Yasushi Akashi, the UN envoy, spoke only of a 'judicious' use of force.

Washington and other members of the alliance are keen to widen the scope of punitive air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces who violate UN-declared 'safe areas', especially around Sarajevo, or attack UN peace-keepers. The UN fears Serbian retaliation against its personnel.

The meeting to discuss the issue was also attended by General George Joulwan, supreme Nato commander, General Sir Michael Rose, force commander in Bosnia, and his UN boss, General Bertrand de Lapresle. But most of the talking was done by Mr Perry and Mr Akashi, in more diplomatic terms than have been heard recently.

Those who favour a tougher line are cross with General Rose, who has consistently restricted Nato's few air strikes to insignificant targets. The two most recent raids, in August and September, destroyed an empty Serbian tank and a Second World War-vintage big gun violating the heavy-weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo.

But the tone at yesterday's meeting was 'fairly pleasant', according to one observer, and was 'an exchange of views' rather than a discussion of possible changes to Nato policy. Mr Perry said that any extension of Nato's role would be pursued through the Security Council and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General.

Mr Perry and Mr Akashi were asked if tougher air strikes were likely. 'I think we are going to see a judicious use of air power which I believe will be more robust, will be more effective,' Mr Perry said. 'I cannot comment on that,' replied Mr Akashi. 'We have agreeed on close co- operation to make sure that there will be judicious use of air power by Nato in support of Unprofor (UN Protection Force).' He added: 'We are mindful of the safety of all our personnel.'

The UN treads softly where the Bosnian Serbs are concerned - too softly, some say - for fear of reprisal against aid workers and peace-keepers. But even so, it remains extremely vulnerable to Bosnian Serb pressure.

Following the last air strike, on 22 September, the Serbs banned all UN convoys from their territory.