Leading Article: Five nations must stand together

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ONCE again the Bosnian Serbs have employed prevarication and violence to intimidate the United Nations and ensure that the latest peace plan for Bosnia proves as fruitless as all its predecessors. This time a British soldier has paid with his life for their tactics. Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose was right to call in air support at once and it is regrettable that the pilots found no targets for swift retribution. French troops bravely tried to extricate the convoy and Lt-Gen Rose decamped to Pale to present yet another warning to Radovan Karadzic and his soldiers.

Yesterday also saw another session of the preposterous 'parliament' set up by the Bosnian Serb leadership. Foreign diplomats were invited to believe that it was giving solemn consideration once again to the peace plan put forward by the United States, Britain, France, Russia and Germany.

They were further asked to treat with diplomatic courtesy the 'parliament's' list of clarifications, requirements and demands, all of them discussed a hundred times before. The Bosnian Serbs added that they should enjoy the right to unite with any neighbouring state. And, of course, any plan would have to be submitted to a referendum. Such are the niceties of democracy.

The Bosnian Serbs are clearly not serious about these negotiations. Nor are they convinced that any credible military threat hangs over their forces. This places the five nations in a dilemma when they meet in Geneva on Saturday. They must now strive for a common position that can hold Russia together with the Western powers in the face of a challenge to their collective will.

The foreign ministers could, however, face a choice between a split in their own ranks or seeking once again to modify the plan. Unilateral military action by the West would infuriate Moscow. On balance it is more desirable that the five nations should preserve their unity, because the wars in the former Yugoslavia are ready to ignite afresh. Concerted action is needed to minimise the damage.

Beyond the failure of this 'last chance' peace plan extends the grim possibility of renewed conflict into the next Balkan winter. The United Nations Secretary-General has already raised the prospect of a withdrawal by the UN. Only the maximum pressure upon all the warring sides stands any chance of imposing a fragile peace. It may not be achieved unless all five nations stand together. The task in Geneva is therefore to agree a common strategy in the face of crude attempts to play one great power off against the rest.