Tough talk, pessimism mark meeting on Bosnia

August 27, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- The international conference on the former Yugoslavia opened here yesterday amid a lot of bluster but diminishing expectations that the Humpty Dumpty exercise of putting Bosnia-Herzegovina back together again will succeed or that aggressive Serbian expansionism will be contained.

Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said that Serbs face a "spectacularly bleak future," with prolonged international repudiation, unless Serb leaders reverse their expansionist policies.

"The civilized world simply cannot allow this cancer in the heart of Europe to flourish, much less spread," he said.

British Prime Minister John Major promised that pressure would "inexorably increase" on any Yugoslav party that stood in the way of agreement. "No trade. No aid. No international recognition or role. Economic, cultural, political and diplomatic isolation," he told the joint European Community-United Nations conference.

Mr. Major, the EC president, and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, co-chairmen at the conference, asserted that the stakes were too high to entertain the idea of failure.

The future of Europe is at risk in the Balkans, perhaps even more than that, they insisted.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali advised the conference that, though no one should expect the United Nations to step into every violent situation likely to erupt in the tinderbox world left in the wake of the Cold War, "some disputes compel our attention."

Yugoslavia, he made clear, is one of them. What is happening there, he said, "transgress the fundamental moral standards

which humanity holds in common." It threatens to destabilize the world system that is based on respect for the integrity of the nation state.

Mr. Major said that the first principle to which the world community is committed is "that frontiers cannot be altered by force. The international community will not accept that Bosnia can be partitioned by conquest.

"The second principle is that, within those fixed frontiers, minorities are entitled to full protection and respect for their civil rights," he said.

The London conference is the latest of many attempts to reach a peace settlement in Yugoslavia. Everybody who tried has failed to date, none more repeatedly than Lord Carrington, the EC's mediator, who holds the record for cease-fires negotiated that were never honored.

On Tuesday, on the eve of the conference, he quit in disgust.

The current peace conference is a full-fledged summit with all the players in the Balkan tragedy present. In addition to Mr. Major and Mr. Boutros-Ghali, attending is the president of independent Croatia, Franjo Tudjman; the president of would-be independent Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic; the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, who are trying to frustrate Bosnian independence, Radovan Karadzic.

Also present is the man regarded as the main architect of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Yugoslavia's prime minister, Milan Panic, is also attending.

Representatives from virtually all the other Balkan countries and from other European countries are present, as well as Japan, the Islamic nations, and those republics that formerly were part of the Yugoslav federation, such as Slovenia and Macedonia, which are not at war with anyone at the moment, but which, in the case of Macedonia, might expect to be should this conference fail.

The first and hardest obstacle confronting the conference is Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the most thoroughly integrated of the six republics and two autonomous provinces that made up the defunct Yugoslav federation. Half its population are Muslims, about a third Orthodox Christian Serbs and the remainder Roman Catholic Croats.

For decades they lived together peacefully; now they are at war with each other.

Today, following seven months of fighting, Serbs control the largest part of Bosnia, Croats (who just as aggressively have been trying to eat up Bosnian territory) hold the second largest part, and the Bosnian Muslims (represented by President Izetbegovic) are left with a small territory around the capital, Sarajevo.

Sorrowfully, Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian foreign minister, betrayed his doubts that the conference could end Bosnia's trial. "We feel we should be protected. We are entitled to that. But judging from our experience, the aggression will not stop by mere condemnation and sanctions."

He asked the West to organize air strikes against the Serbian forces besieging Sarajevo. He said Bosnians should be allowed to acquire weapons to defend themselves against the well-armed Serbs.

The conference will try to pressure both Serbs and Croats to surrender the territory they have grabbed in Bosnia. Since Serbia has been more successful in this endeavor, most of the pressure will be on Mr. Milosevic. No one with authority has seriously suggested using all-out military force against Serbia, though the United Nations is moving toward the use of troops to protect relief deliveries to those under siege.

Current sanctions include a ban on trade with Serbia, the suspension of air traffic and a freeze on all Serbian assets outside the country.

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