U.N. approves sanctions on Yugoslavia Security Council attempts to halt bloodshed in Bosnia

May 31, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council, propelled by the failure of others, imposed tough economic sanctions on Yugoslavia yesterday in hopes of halting the carnage in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Ignoring a last-minute peace bid by Serbia and Montenegro -- the only republics remaining in the Yugoslav federation -- the Security Council approved an oil embargo, a freeze of foreign assets, the suspension of air traffic and a ban on trade of all but food and humanitarian supplies.

U.N. members also will be required to reduce Yugoslav diplomatic missions, and Yugoslav teams will be barred from sporting events.

The vote was 13-0 with Zimbabwe and China abstaining.

The 15-nation council, meeting in New York, acted under the section of its charter that ultimately allows use of force if lesser actions fail, and vowed to consider unspecified further steps "whenever necessary."

The action, declaring the Yugoslav conflict "a threat to international peace and security," came after the United States, alarmed by a mounting death toll in Bosnia following months of ineffective mediation efforts, shifted policy and took over the diplomatic lead from the European Community.

It pushed the Security Council deeper into trying to curb an ethnic-fueled conflict of the kind that it prefers to leave to regional organizations.

President Bush, apparently trying to set the pace, ordered seizure of Yugoslav assets in the United States about five hours after the U.N. vote. The White House said Yugoslav assets total $214 million in the United States and that Mr. Bush had ordered the Treasury Department to seize the assets before tomorrow.

The United States already had slapped a trade and economic embargo on Yugoslavia.

The U.N. sanctions seek to force Serbia and Montenegro to agree to a cease-fire in Bosnia. But some Western diplomats expressed doubt that even universally applied sanctions would deter Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic from pursuing his goal of creating a greater Serbia by effectively annexing Serbian enclaves in neighboring states that have declared their independence from Yugoslavia.

"Everyone is very pessimistic, perhaps rightly so," one diplomat said. "The odds, I suppose, are against it." The key hope is that the sanctions will strengthen opposition to the Milosevic regime.

Mr. Milosevic called the sanctions "typical pressure on a small country."

"I would even say this is tyranny," he said, according to the Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency.

Fighting continued yesterday in Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, where Muslim forces traded fire with Serb-led Yugoslav troops trapped in their barracks, the Associated Press reported. Clashes also were reported in eastern and western Bosnia.

At least 2,200 people have been killed and 1 million left homeless since Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim and Croat communities proclaimed independence in March over Serb opposition.

The Croatian port of Dubrovnik also came under artillery attack yesterday for the second consecutive day after six months of relative calm. Croatia declared independence from the Yugoslav federation last year, sparking months of fighting that was halted by a U.N.-mediated cease-fire.

The heightened U.S. role, and the burden that goes with it, deepens U.S. involvement in a region where officials say no direct national interests are at stake.

U.S. officials continue to rule out force applied only by the United States, but don't dismiss the idea of some kind of collective military action as fears of regional instability grow. Others mention the possibility of a naval blockade to enforce the sanctions.

The prospect of intervention produces dread in and out of government. "There's nothing more difficult to fix than a multi-ethnic civil war," says Brian Urquhart, a former undersecretary general of the United Nations with a long career in peacekeeping efforts. He is now at the Ford Foundation.

In a last-ditch move to avert sanctions, Serbian leaders called for an international meeting to seek a settlement and then appealed to the United States and Russia to take control of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which seceded from Yugoslavia and has been internationally recognized as an independent state.

A senior U.S. official dismissed the moves contemptuously: "These guys are consummate liars," the official said. "They're in the process of shelling Dubrovnik. That's not a sign of peaceful intent. They should heed the council's call and go back to negotiations."

The vote was delayed to secure what Western diplomats called crucial support from Russia, an oil supplier with long-standing ties to Serbia. The trade cut-off will be another blow to Russia's economy as it struggles to shift to a free market.

With the sanctions in place, the immediate focus is on ensuring compliance with the embargo on the part of Serbia's neighbors. One of them, Romania, leans to the West, but still is run by leaders in the old Soviet-style mold, and has been a transshipment point for oil. Another, Greece, will be allowed to continue to ship goods through Yugoslavia, but not trade with it.

"The big question is whether this shot across the bow will make Milosevic pull back," said Joseph S. Nye, Jr., director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. If it doesn't work, he said, pressure will build for stronger action.

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