Leading Article: Steel nerves, Serbian guns

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The Independent Online
IF EVER there was a time for strong nerves and unity of purpose in the Bosnia crisis, this is it.

Of brave men there is no shortage. Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose and the exemplary soldiers of the French contingent now deploying along the lines in Sarajevo offer proof of that. But unity of purpose among the Western allies, often fragile during this war, must be enforced with ruthless will. A few powers still provide the military reserves to underwrite the world's moral outrage. They need to steel themselves to hold fast to their resolve in the face of prevarication, cunning and bluff. Serbian guns must be removed from within 12.5 miles of Sarajevo or placed under United Nations control before the Nato deadline expires.

Nothing else is thinkable now. No compromise, no half-hearted extension of deadlines, no acceptance of the predictable excuses by Dr Karadzic, no tolerance of the whims of General Ratko Mladic, the man who used artillery against Sarajevo as a village butcher might wield his meat cleaver. It is fine and welcome that the urbane Vitaly Churkin should descend upon Pale with a letter from Boris Yeltsin and the promise of compliance. But to announce that 400 Russian troops serving with the United Nations will be rushed to the area smacks of the days when Soviet pawns were shuffled around a Cold War chessboard, here to block an opponent's move, there to seize an opportunity.

The Russians should briskly be invited to play their part in the full implementation of UN resolution 638, which they supported in its call for 'all necessary measures' to help Unprofor to fulfill its mandate. The Serbs have feasted upon inconsistency and with skill exploited every weak link in Western policy. We are told that the generals and bureaucrats are now in agreement as to what constitutes United Nations 'control' of Serbian artillery remaining within the radius. It must mean nothing less than disabling the weapons or placing them in the custody of properly armed UN troops with orders to fight to defend them. This latest Russian twist makes it all the more imperative for Nato and the United Nations to sort out the chain of command and responsibility in former Yugoslavia.

If anyone doubted that the stakes in Bosnia now far outweigh the intrinsic issues in this miserable contest of intolerance, let them reflect upon the events of this week. Greece bludgeons Macedonia and scorns its European partners. Russia strives to recapture its role in the Balkans. Factions in Washington push policy forwards and backwards and the great nations of Western Europe seem united only in their shared discomfort. And all the while, from North Korea to Tehran and, yes, Algiers, sharp and hostile eyes await the outcome of this test.