EC recognizes Croatia, Slovenia as free states Yugoslav federation consigned to history

January 16, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Ripped apart by six months of civil war, Yugoslavia was dumped into history's landfill yesterday as the European Community declared that its members would recognize as independent countries Croatia and Slovenia.

Britain and Belgium were the first to announce recognition in the wake of the EC decision. Germany had recognized the republics Dec. 23 but withheld implementation to permit a coordinated action by the entire community.

Joao de Deus Pinheiro, the foreign minister of Portugal, which holds the EC presidency now, said the other nine member states would follow today or tomorrow.

"Yugoslavia is now in a state of dissolution," Belgian spokesman Johan Verbeke said of the 73-year-old federation of southern Slavs.

About 50 U.N. liaison officers have been sent to Croatia and Serbia to prepare the way for a peacekeeping force of about 10,000 troops, the first deployed in Europe, to keep Serbian and Croatian forces from renewing their hostilities.

This might not be easy in view of Croatia's announced determination to regain the third of the republic now held by the national army and Serbian militants.

Under a U.N. cease-fire, brokered by former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, Yugoslav army troops are to withdraw to Serbia. The militants, free-lance Serbian guerrillas, have not agreed to surrender the territory they hold.

The civil war, fueled by centuries of ethnic, religious and ideological hatred, has left more than 6,000 people dead and produced a million refugees and homeless and pockets of severe damage.

The final decision on recognition of the breakaway republics by Europe was conditioned on the 13-day-old cease-fire's holding. The truce isthe 15th since the EC began to intervene diplomatically in the war raging on its southeastern flank.

Recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, the two other restive republics within the federation, is being withheld for the time being. There is some question, according to one EC official, about the commitment to human rights by Bosnia-Herzegovina, the most ethnically diverse of the republics.

Greece opposes Macedonia's gaining independence under its current name, fearing that it would stimulate separatist sentiments in its own northern territory of the same name.

If these two republics achieve independence, all that will remain of Yugoslavia will be Serbia and Montenegro, with a total of just over 10 million people. The breakaway republics will have nearly 13 million.

The recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, which declared their independence June 25, is being interpreted as a triumph of EC solidarity on a major foreign policy issue. It is also evidence of the organization's willingness to acquiesce to the strong desire of its most powerful member, Germany, which pushed hardest for yesterday's decision.

"The German policy on Yugoslavia has proved correct," said that country's foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in a radio interview. "We've said for months that if the community decided on recognition . . . that would initiate a process of rethinking" with regard to the civil war.

Not everyone thought that way. Just last week, Britain did not favor recognition for fear that it would aggravate the Serbs and cause new fighting.

"We're going along with it," a high-level government official said yesterday. "We're probably one of the less enthusiastic. Our recognition will be [given] in the expectation of a resolution of all human rights issues."

France was still slightly doubtful.

A report by a French jurist, Robert Badinter, commissioned by the 12 EC governments, said that Slovenia met all the criteria for recognition but that Croatia still had some "technical problems" with some of its ethnic minorities. The minorities in question are Serbs who live in Croatia, not all of whom are guerrillas.

Croatia and Slovenia had already been recognized by Iceland, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and the Vatican, all strongly Catholic states believed to be acting in sympathy with the two Catholic republics.

Canada recognized the two yesterday.

Diplomats and analysts predicted that the United States would have little choice but to follow the EC lead in the next few weeks, unless the civil war escalates.

Washington had argued against recognition on grounds that it could provoke further conflict, but its response yesterday left open the door for compromise.

"We're prepared to accept any outcome that's achieved peacefully, democratically and through negotiations," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

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