West prepares to enforce Bosnia no-fly zone: Nato moves to stop violations by Croatia and put pressure on Zagreb to make concessions at next week's peace talks

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The Independent Online
NATO is making preparations to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia, including shooting down aircraft that violate the ban, an alliance source said yesterday. The move follows repeated violations of the no-fly zone by Croatian helicopters.

Pressure on Croatia is increasing as the country comes to be seen as a serious obstacle to peace in the former Yugoslavia. Western governments also want Croatia to improve its human rights record and consider territorial concessions at peace talks next week in Geneva.

According to the Nato source, last week the alliance's political authorities asked its military committee and Shape (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) to examine plans to enforce the no-fly zone, which was set up seven months ago. This followed repeated violations of the zone by helicopters flying into Bosnia from Croatia.

Initially these were being used mainly for humanitarian supplies but now they were also carrying ammunition and materiel, the source said. Diplomatic sources in London added that the Croats were also coming close to using the helicopters as gunships.

Nato cannot act without a further mandate from the United Nations, since the present UN Security Council resolution allows the alliance's aircraft only to fire in self-defence. 'We're getting ready but the signal has to come from the UN,' said the source. Planning has also been hampered by the lack of information from Unprofor, the UN force in Bosnia, he said.

Lord Owen has told European Union ministers that he believes that Croatia as well as Serbia will have to give up some of the land it has seized if there is to be a peace settlement in Bosnia.

'It's David Owen's view that the Croats, too, need to think in terms of territorial concessions,' said Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, after a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.

Croatia has also been warned by the club of democratic European states that it will lose its special links if it does not clean up its act. A motion was put to the last session of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, the 32- country Strasbourg-based human rights organisation, by Tim Rathbone, Conservative MP for Lewes. It threatened to withdraw Croatia's special guest status, removing one of the country's few links with European institutions and all but ruling out closer ties with the EU.

Council of Europe authorities have asked for reassurance on a wide range of issues but there is particular concern over the role of Zagreb in human rights abuses by Bosnian Croats. Senior members of a Croatian parliamentary delegation to Strasbourg told the Independent last week that the issue was now settled, but yesterday Mr Rathbone said the resolution remained on the table. 'It had support from representatives of all the political parties and a large cross-section of nationalities,' Mr Rathbone said.

There is mounting concern in the West about Croatia as fighting between Bosnian Croat forces and Bosnian government troops escalates. Last week Irsan Lubijankic, Bosnia's Foreign Minister, called for international economic sanctions against Croatia, claiming that its soldiers were directly involved in the conflict. 'Croatia has sent another brigade into Bosnia-Herzegovina,' he said in Vienna.

Germany continues to resist action against Croatia, and there were signs of a disagreement between EU ministers over the issue on Monday. Germany angered many of its European partners by forcing the early recognition of Croatia as an independent state in 1991. Bonn has also resisted pressure from some EU states for sanctions to be applied to Croatia. Now, 'the Germans are prepared to use their unique influence on the Croats', said Mr Hurd, to get agreement from them on the no-fly zone and territorial concessions.

(Photograph omitted)