Leading Article: Bad news from the Balkans

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The Independent Online
Things are looking grim in the Balkans despite the latest Western initiative for the former Yugoslavia. As we reported yesterday, there are ominous signs that the truce which has held in Croatia for three years is about to end. The fighting season is about to start in Bosnia, too. Faced with this, the West's suggestion that Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia should recognise each other within their pre-war frontiers - and then talk to guarantee the special status of the Serbian minorities in Croatia and Bosnia - is doomed.

Without a credible threat of force to back up the Western initiative, there is not the slightest chance that either Serbia's president Slobodan Milosevic, or the leaders of the Serb-controlled regions of Croatia and Bosnia, will accept the plan. Mr Milosevic has already given it the thumbs down, saying that nothing can be discussed until United Nations Security Council sanctions on Serbia are fully lifted. As for the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic, both have made it repeatedly clear that they are not interested in autonomy for their regions but want either independence or union with Serbia.

On several occasions since 1991, Western governments have looked at the option of using force to moderate Serb ambitions. Last year Nato made a few pin-prick attacks on Serb targets in Bosnia, but ultimately the military option has always been rejected, especially since Russia used its influence to become an equal partner with the West in the search for a Yugoslav settlement.

The West is therefore deluding itself if it thinks it can make its latest proposals work. Some Western policy-makers seem to believe that Mr Milosevic has an incentive to accept the proposals, in that Serbia urgently needs an end to sanctions and a return to international respectability. They are wrong. All the sanctions in the world will not make Mr Milosevic accept an initiative that asks him to admit the defeat of his fundamental objectives since 1991. Furthermore, Mr Karadzic and Mr Martic are demons that have slipped Serbia's leash, and nothing is more certain than that they will fight on, even if Mr Milosevic attempts to cut a deal behind their backs.

The West must face an unpalatable truth. Refusal to use military force dictates that a just and honourable settlement to the Yugoslav conflicts is unattainable. Either the West reassesses its policy of not threatening force - which seems highly unlikely - or it must come up with fresh proposals more suited to Balkan realities. As things stand now, all that Western governments are doing is tricking public opinion - and putting off the moment of bitter truth.