BERLIN -- Faced with a potential war on their doorstep, Western European leaders implemented newly developed crisis management mechanisms yesterday to try to force Yugoslavia and its two breakaway republics into peace negotiations.
At the same time, German officials said they had set up a team to organize the evacuation of 10,000 tourists from Yugoslavia and to cope with the possible influx of 20,000 refugees from the fighting.
The 12 European Community leaders meeting in Luxembourg agreed to freeze $1 billion in economic credits and yesterday sent three of their foreign ministers to Yugoslavia with a five-point peace plan to stop the fighting and suspend the declarations of independence made by Croatia and Slovenia.
The EC heads of state agreed to bring into play a crisis management mechanism that was established last week at the Berlin meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The process gives CSCE members the right to demand information about a potential crisis from another member within 48 hours and to force a quick meeting to defuse the problem.
In Washington, the State Department condemned the violence and urged Yugoslavia to negotiate immediately with secessionist republics and to "exercise restraint."
It again called on Belgrade to "find a way to give vent to the national aspirations of the various elements within Yugoslavia in a peaceful way through dialogue and negotiation."
Yesterday's EC decision means that Yugoslavia has been formally asked to explain its behavior in launching attacks on the two republics that declared their independence Tuesday. After it gives its answer, there would be a meeting of top officials within three days and possibly the start of a peace conference.
The only hitch to the process, according to German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, is that it is untried and voluntary. "We hope to get talks started, but it does depend on a will for a solution. We can't force a solution," Mr. Genscher said.
Analysts agreed that the EC's initiative was one of the first joint foreign policy actions taken by the largely economic grouping. With the end of the Cold War and the Communist regimes that kept European ethnic tensions under control, the EC is being forced to make decisions that it avoided earlier.
"The European Community is faced with its first power-political decision. It is being made to take responsibility for peace in Central Europe -- a powder keg that they know could blow up in their faces," said Kurt Biedenkopf, governor of the German state of Saxony.
Yugoslavia borders two EC members -- Greece and Italy -- as well as Austria, whose EC membership is pending. The 12 EC leaders are concerned that continued conflict could arouse other dormant ethnic conflicts in Eastern Europe and send waves of refugees into Western Europe, a region that already receives about 800,000 refugees a year from other parts of the world.
In Germany, which has relatively liberal refugee laws, Foreign Ministry officials said they have worked out a crisis management plan to deal with up to 20,000 refugees who could stream across the border to Austria or Italy and then up to Germany.
This concern about instability is one reason why European leaders have been so cool to Slovenian and Croatian declarations of independence, which under most interpretations of international law represent the two republics' legitimate right to self-determination.
"It is paradoxical that although most European statesmen are absolutely certain that Yugoslavia cannot be held together, they are also afraid of the consequences and so push stability at any price," said German political analyst Theo Summer.