US seeks military action on Bosnia aid

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IN AN admission that the United Nations peace-keeping mission has failed in Bosnia, the United States is seeking the authority to use force to protect deliveries of humanitarian aid and to prevent further atrocities against civilians.

The US plan for military action has raised British concerns that the entire UN humanitarian operation of getting food and medicine into Sarajevo could be jeopardised. 'There is a danger,' a Western diplomat said, 'of throwing out the baby and the bathwater.'

The US began consultations with its allies as the escalation in the fighting in Sarajevo caused a UN spokesman to threaten to pull out altogether. In practice, however, it would be politically impossible for the UN to pull its peace-keeping force out of the Bosnian capital and leave civilians to their fate, senior officials said.

The US plan for force will be put to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, today. He is opposed to deeper UN involvement in Bosnia, but has indicated that he would back an operation that involved European forces, whether from Nato or the Western European Union (WEU).

Washington has concluded that the only way to avoid a humanitarian disaster is to use the protective umbrella of military cover to safeguard land convoys bringing in international aid. President Bush appears to have been panicked into changing his hands-off policy by the attacks the President-elect, Bill Clinton, has made on US policy in the former Yugoslavia.

The US plan falls far short of the Bosnian government's pleas for military intervention against the Serbs. The US plans to use force only for humanitarian reasons, and there is, as yet, no prospect of Bosnia being exempted from the UN arms embargo.

Reports of atrocities against civilians detained in Serbian camps have resonated widely in the US, and Mr Clinton has been quick to draw comparisons with the Holocaust of the Second World War. 'If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralysed in the face of genocide,' he said in a statement issued at his Little Rock headquarters.

In a separate initiative, the US called for an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission to take action over reports that Bosnian civilians are being rounded up into 'concentration camps' and killed. The US set a deadline of Monday afternoon for action by members of the commission, although little concrete action is expected because no international organisations have first- hand evidence of such atrocities.

The UN has received numerous reports of acts of genocide and human rights abuse by Bosnians and Serbs, but has done nothing to verify the claims. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited nine detention centres in Bosnia and registered some 4,000 detainees, many of them elderly women and children.

In Brussels, the Nato military committee yesterday examined options for intervening in the former Yugoslavia, including setting up 'safe havens'. The committee chairman, General Viglik Eide, said Nato was examining options to intervene, at short notice, if asked to by the UN. But no one had supported enforcement of the 'no-fly zone' over Bosnia, officials said. Many are against it because it could endanger UN troops and relief convoys.

Although some have favoured using the nine-nation WEU to co-ordinate multi-national operations in Europe, Nato ministers were sceptical yesterday. The Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said there were lessons to be learned from the deployment in the Adriatic, where separate WEU and Nato squadrons were used side by side.

But he counselled against further intervention, saying it would place troops on the ground at risk. If a decision were taken to shoot down Serbian aircraft or attack Serbian positions, it would probably be necessary to get French and Canadian troops - who are in Serb-dominated areas - out first and to pull British and Spanish troops into defensive positions.

NEW YORK - Mr Boutros-Ghali yesterday recommended enlarging the UN military presence in the Balkans by deploying up to 800 peace-keepers and police to prevent trouble in Macedonia, AP reports.