OPTIONS IN THE BALKANS / Bombs, sanctions and maps on the dark path to peace: As the ravaged town of Srebrenica comes under heavy shelling, the world's politicians debate its future

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The Independent Online
FULL-SCALE military intervention, or keeping a safe distance from the Balkans? Western governments face a host of options, all open to criticism on moral and practical grounds.

The strongest response would be to send in large numbers of ground troops and aircraft to attack Serbian military bases and supply routes, not just in Bosnia- Herzegovina but in Serbia itself. Very few Western politicians support this approach, and certainly not President Bill Clinton, whose country would have to provide the biggest element of the force.

This policy also fails to take into account the fact that the war pits not only Serbs against Muslims but also, in central and southern Bosnia, Muslims against Croats. It would meet immense resistance from Russia, which, while not a supporter of Serbian expansionism, believes the Bosnian war is more complicated than some Western leaders make out. Russia does not want to see Western troops applying force in a conflict so similar to ethnic disputes in the former Soviet Union.

At the opposite extreme, the West could say that the Balkans are not an area of fundamental concern and try to throw a cordon sanitaire around it, hoping that in the end the war will burn itself out. One problem here is that there is already such a gigantic refugee crisis in western and central Europe that, like it or not, the West is involved. Another problem is that the war has the potential to spread south, sucking in Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and - worst of all from the West's point of view - two Nato members, Greece and Turkey. To avoid this nightmare, the West needs a strategy for Bosnia.

Some Western politicians advocate a cautious approach: continue to apply diplomatic pressure on the combatants to stop fighting, deliver humanitarian aid to civilians, maintain sanctions against the Serbs, and seek a negotiated settlement under the auspices of the United Nations and the European Community. This line is vulnerable to the accusation that it has demonstrably failed to stop the war.

On the other hand, it has produced the only detailed peace plan so far, in the shape of the Vance-Owen proposals that the Bosnian Muslims and Croats have accepted. These provide for a decentralised Bosnia of 10 autonomous provinces, with guarantees for the rights of national minorities. But the United States believes that the plan offers too much territory to the Serbs.

A more interventionist policy would mean tightening sanctions against the Serbs and even using limited air strikes against Serbian military targets. There is a big question mark over whether the Russians would accept this.

Going even further, some Western leaders speak of arming the Muslims to help them to recapture territory. But they have not satisfactorily explained how this would prevent the Serbs from acquiring even more weapons.

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