UN 'safe areas' plan puts the squeeze on Serbs

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CONDEMNING the Serbs' rejection of the Bosnian peace plan, the United Nations Security Council members yesterday voted unanimously for new 'safe areas' to be created in the Muslim-dominated Bosnian towns, and accused the Bosnian Serb assembly of 'delaying tactics' in rejecting formal acceptance of the peace proposal.

At the same time, the Council members were insisting that the plan drawn up by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance to divide Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous cantons was still 'the only game in town', and the Serbs had better hurry up and accept it or face military action by Nato forces, sanctioned by the Council.

The Security Council resolution creates safe areas in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and in the towns of Tuzla, Zepa, Bihac and Gorazde. It calls for an immediate ceasefire in the safe areas and the withdrawal of 'invading units', all actions to be monitored by UN military observers. And it urges the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to provide an extra 50 observers for this purpose.

The new safe areas will be created along the lines of the Srebrenica safe haven, which is being monitored by 150 Canadian UN troops in Bosnia. These forces have been used primarily for ensuring the distribution of humanitarian aid, but the Council's new resolution would call for their partial redeployment to the designated safe-area towns.

Implied in the new move is a threat that if the Serbs continue their artillery attacks on those towns, they will invite a military response, probably air-strikes against Serb gun emplacements. The UN continued its talks with Nato over the manner in which such attacks might be carried out.

Security Council members are under no illusion that the redeployments around the safe areas would turn them into 'Star Wars astrodomes' make them impervious to Serb attacks. The new resolution was being treated as an emergency step to try and to prevent further slaughter of the Muslims before the Vance-Owen peace plan could be implemented.

Most Council members wanted to send a strong message to the Bosnian Serb assembly that its actions are not recognised by the Council and that it does not have any legal basis for calling a referendum on the peace plan among Bosnia's Serb population.

The US yesterday stepped up the pressure on the European Community to take more forceful action against the Bosnian Serbs. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, found little appetite for the full use of military force when he talked to the EC troika of Community presidents past, present and future.

But all sides reiterated the importance of acting together. And while the troika said the lifting of the arms embargo or limited air strikes could be conducted only with a fresh UN mandate, these options were discussed. There seems to be a growing awareness the EC will have to decide some fresh action. 'The Pale vote has given us another reason to join efforts so as not to give the Serbs the impression that the divide amongst the key international players is going to allow them to continue their savage aspirations,' said the EC Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Hans van den Broek.

Mr Christopher said after the meeting: 'Last night's action will bring into focus the importance of new and stronger measures.' He dismissed the suggestion that decisions should await a proposed referendum of Bosnian Serbs, adding: 'It looks to me like another cynical ploy to accomplish delay while they're rolling up additional territory in Bosnia.'