US confused about its Bosnia policy: Report recommending military action contradicts current aims

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton's administration has been urged by an internal policy review to consider military intervention to help the Bosnian Muslims. But neither the President nor the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, appears ready to contemplate such action, or even tell the Congress about the report.

A version of the report was leaked to the New York Times on the eve of an expected United Nations Security Council vote on further economic sanctions against the Serbs. In briefings on Balkan policy to Congress last week, the report was not mentioned.

For the administration, the report complicated an already confusing Balkan policy that swings, depending on which official is speaking, from a desire to punish the Serbs by force if necessary for their 'ethnic cleansing' policy, to labelling the Balkan conflict an intractable 'problem from hell' that cannot be solved by US intervention.

The recommendation to use force was made by a 26-member administration team sent to Bosnia by President Clinton in February as part of the search for a Balkan policy. Among the suggestions are civilian 'safe havens' protected by international forces and separate military efforts to wipe out Serbian artillery.

The report's recommendations run counter to the administration's - and the West's - policy of delivering humanitarian aid to the Bosnian Muslims and refraining from military action against the Serbs while urging them to sign the UN and EC-sponsored peace plan for Bosnia drawn up by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance.

Confusing signals have been coming from Belgrade as to whether the Serbs are considering further negotiations over the peace plan, which has been signed by the other two warring factions, the Muslims and the Croats. The resolution due to be voted on by the Security Council today would impose tighter economic sanctions against Belgrade, unless the Serbs agree to the peace plan within 15 days.

Last-minute objections by the Russians have made it uncertain what the final resolution will say. The Americans and the Europeans wanted the seizure of Yugoslav transport equipment, a ban on all ships entering Yugoslav waters and stricter enforcement of the trade embargo, but the Russians balked at these main points.

If Russia voted for such measures, President Yeltsin would risk incurring the further anger of his opponents in the Russian parliament who want Russia to support their Serbian 'brothers' because they share the Russian Orthodox religion. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's special envoy to the Vance-Owen peace talks, was due in New York this weekend to put the Russian case to the Security Council.

If a compromise cannot be reached on the resolution it is not clear whether the Russians will simply abstain from voting, or whether Mr Yeltsin feels strongly enough to exercise a veto. If he does so, it would be the first between Russia and the US on a Security Council resolution since the end of the Cold War.

In the unlikely event the Serbs agree to the peace plan, the US and the Europeans will be faced with the problem of implementing it - and on this issue little has been agreed. The increased UN force required - at least 75,000 troops in the latest UN estimates - cannot be put together without at least 20,000 US troops, some say 40,000. But there is no consensus within the administration about supplying such a force.

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