Pressure on Serbia

August 30, 1992

Another Munich it was not. The London peace conference to end Serbian aggression against Bosnia failed to reverse the seizure of territory by force or even to establish a cease-fire, as witness another intense shelling of Sarajevo only a few hours after the conference ended. But the 24 nations represented in London at least brandished the threat of increased sanctions and secured promises which, if kept, might produce some progress when negotiations resume next week in Geneva.

The outlook is not favorable. In Belgrade, the capital of what is left of the old Yugoslav confederation, there was satisfaction that Serbia's isolation had not increased and its proposals for the "cantonization" (meaning the partitioning) of Bosnia were still on the table. In London, Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs in their war against Muslims and Croats, said he was willing to give up a fifth of that 70 percent of Bosnian territory his forces have grabbed in six months of civil war -- hardly an offer that matches London agreements he described as even-handed.

What chills the Muslim community in Sarajevo is the fear that outside nations will not risk military entanglement in Balkan strife and that, piece by piece, it will shrivel into an enclave barely tolerated by Eastern Orthodox Serbs or Roman Catholic Croats. This is no nightmare fantasy; events have been moving in this direction.

Yet acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and British Prime Minister John Major mustered up some outward optimism, perhaps because antagonism between the aggressive Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the more conciliatory Yugoslav premier, Milan Panic, had erupted openly during the two-day meeting. Mr. Milosevic stormed past reporters saying, "Talks, what talks?" in reference to the upcoming Geneva meeting. Mr. Panic said Mr. Milosevic had better comply with the peace plan -- "or else!" It has long been a Western hope that a split in Serbian ranks, or, better yet, the ouster of Mr. Milosevic, would materially boost peace prospects.

Meanwhile, the West should tighten the blockade of Serbia and strengthen United Nations forces guarding aid convoys to the suffering Bosnian people. It should also keep pushing for U.N. control of heavy weaponry and the closing of prison camps -- Serbian promises renewed after being broken in the past. The main tool is international pressure and outrage -- and this must be applied on a sustained basis in on-going negotiations.

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