The denials of possible military action have been hedged about with an increasing number of ifs, buts and not-yets. In Bosnia, military intervention is neither easier nor more difficult than it was a month ago; the only difference is that large numbers of people have been killed as the Serbian forces tightened their stranglehold on Sarajevo.
Even when the Americans recently began to hint at the possibility of military force, the British continued to pooh-pooh the idea. Recently, the EC peace negotiator on Yugoslavia, Lord Carrington, felt able confidently to state that military force 'will not happen'. However, last week's dramatic visit to Sarajevo by President Francois Mitterrand of France helped to persuade the West to acknowledge that hand- wringing was no longer enough.
Planes with airlifts of food at last began to arrive. But the Serbian forces remain almost as intransigent as ever. In the face of international sanctions, the Serbian leader in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic, and the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, have insisted that all accusations against the Serbs are groundless. But if Sarajevo's suffering is less, it is because of the UN airlifts, not because the Serbs have eased their grip.
Intensification of the pressure has continued, but Britain has still held back. It has accepted almost no refugees (Austria has 20,000, Sweden 30,000, impoverished Hungary 60,000, and Germany 200,000). In the political arena, British initiatives have been confined to a largely irrelevant set of proposals at last month's European Community summit in Lisbon, which were then already out of date.
Other countries have concluded that some kind of clear action - however flawed - is necessary, to break the Sarajevo deadlock. The threatened use of ground troops, backed by US air cover, in order to allow humanitarian aid through to Sarajevo makes it clear that the international community is ready to go much further than seemed possible a few months ago.
The likely route would be from the south and west of Sarajevo, through a region now held by the Croats. The route could lead from Split, in southern Croatia, through Mostar in southern Bosnia (recently re-taken by the Croats from the Serbs) to Kiseljak, on the western edge of Sarajevo itself. Only the last few miles pass through Serb-held territory, which would be the most likely area of conflict. Another possible route is from the Croatian capital, Zagreb, down through the Serb- held town of Banja Luka. It is possible that the mere threat of the big stick will mean that Serbian doves gain the upper hand. But few in Bosnia are likely to bet heavily on a peaceful outcome. Last month, a Red Cross worker was killed when his convoy was attacked by Serbian forces. The international rules - including the inviolability of aid organisations like the Red Cross - have rarely been so consistently flouted as they are in Bosnia today.
Britain would then no doubt argue that the previous policy - in effect, standing by and doing nothing - was justified. But the policy of shoulder-shrugging has been at least as disastrous for the inhabitants of Sarajevo as any future military action is likely to be. BELGRADE - A Serbian policeman was killed and another wounded when their patrol was ambushed in Serbia's restive southern province of Kosovo, according to the Belgrade news agency, Tanjug, AP reports.
Their patrol car was reportedly riddled with automatic-rifle bullets. In 1989, Serbia sharply limited the autonomy of Kosovo, where about 90 per cent of the 1.9 million residents are ethnic Albanians.
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