Leading Article: Serb divisions are West's opportunity

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The Independent Online
THE Bosnian Serbs' defiant rejection of peace looks irrational only from the outside. They now have everyone against them, including their erstwhile friend, President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. But they are firmly in control of most of Bosnia and no one seems to have the strength and determination to push them out. For obvious reasons they have lost all fear of Western threats, and they do not believe Mr Milosevic could afford to abandon them altogether.

Therefore it makes sense for them to sit tight and wait for the West to come forward with yet more plans, compromises and conferences. As an added bonus, they are making life difficult for Mr Milosevic, whom they would like to remove. They rightly see him as a pragmatic former Communist who uses Serbian nationalism when it suits him but does not have the fire in his blood, as they do.

These antagonisms between Belgrade and Pale, the Bosnian Serb 'capital', create a temporary convergence of interests between Mr Milosevic and the West. Mr Milosevic would like to end the war, not because he has lost interest in Greater Serbia, but because its price has become too high for the time being. Sanctions are hurting - his economists warn of collapse - while rivalry with Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, is undermining his political position among nationalists. He would like a breathing space and an opportunity to install more obedient leaders in Pale.

The West should exploit this window of opportunity by maintaining the pressure on Mr Milosevic. As a minimum, he must accept United Nations monitors on the Bosnian border to ensure that he really cuts off support for the Bosnian Serbs. The last concession the West should make is to lift the ban on fresh credits, which remains its most powerful lever.

Whether it should lift the arms embargo, as the Americans threaten to do on 15 October, is trickier. The threat scares Mr Milosevic, who no longer believes the Russians would veto it. But if it were carried out it could provoke the Serbs to kill many Muslims during the dangerous interval before fresh arms reached the Bosnian government. Since arms are already reaching it in reasonable quantities through overt and covert channels, it would be better to leave matters as they are.

The tide is running against the Bosnian Serbs, and winter will bring military advantage to the more mobile government forces. The only sensible option for the West is to maintain pressure on all parties to the conflict and avoid illusions about Mr Milosevic.