UN gives green light for Nato air strikes: Security Council plan should increase protection for Muslims in 'safe areas' - Skopje steps up campaign for recognition

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FOR the first time in the tortuous Western response to the war in Bosnia, the United Nations Security Council yesterday gave the green light to Nato planes to take retaliatory action against Serbian gunners. Despite a drift in US policy away from the use of force in the Bosnian conflict, the Council's decision implies US planes could soon be involved as part of Nato strikes.

In a 13-0 vote, with two abstentions from non-aligned states, the Council asked the UN Secretary-General to draw up a plan within a week for reinforcing the six 'safe areas' designated for Bosnia's Muslims with extra blue-helmeted troops, and it authorised Nato planes to attack those who violate the security of these areas.

'The use of air power is imminent unless the Serbs desist, now, right away,' said the New Zealand ambassador, Terence O'Brien. The key question is how the Muslim and Serbian forces will react. In the past, Serbian forces have replied to minor provocation from Muslim forces with huge bombardments. That could come at any time, and before the report by the Secretary-General on increased ground troops in the safe areas. Whether Nato planes are called in depends on the UN force commander on the ground, and on how much time Nato needs to turn its air strike contingency plans into action.

The resolution calls on UN troops to use force in self-defence against bombardments of the safe areas, and also against 'deliberate obstruction' of the UN humanitarian aid convoys. But the resolution was described by diplomats as only a 'first step' towards reversing Serbian aggression and towards peace in Bosnia.

Nearly two weeks after the United States, Britain, France, Spain and Russia first approved the plan, the Council overcame divisions among its members to get the resolution passed. Five members of the Council - Pakistan, Venezuela, Morocco, Cape Verde and Djibouti - had delayed a vote requesting the Council to wait until it had received a report from the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, on how the resolution might be implemented.

The five non-aligned members saw the resolution only as a 'quick-fix' to give its five promoters a chance to appear to be doing something to alleviate the suffering of the Bosnians without forcing the Serbs to give up land they had grabbed and 'ethnically cleansed' of Muslim inhabitants.

The five non-aligned members pressed the Council to give a deadline to the Bosnian Serbs to roll back from the lands they had gained in the conflict. They want all three sides to begin implementing the Vance-Owen peace plan by the end of the month. The plan requires the Serbs to give up half of the land they have seized and divides Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous cantons.

In addition, the non-aligned members wanted the Council to lift the arms embargo against the Muslims. In the end, the resolution did not contain the deadline and all but two of the non-aligned members, Venezuela and Pakistan, were persuaded to vote for it as a first step.

In an effort to accommodate the non-aligned group the resolution affirms that the increased protection of the safe areas is only 'a temporary measure,' and that the 'primary objective' is the 'prompt implementation of the provisions of the Vance- Owen peace plan in areas where they have been agreed by the parties directly concerned'.