Serbs welcome U.S. support for talks, not guns


February 12, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The unveiling of President Clinton's policy toward Bosnia was greeted here with a sigh of relief. The threat of a military intervention has been averted for now.

Belgrade officials did not make any official comment. But the tone in the government-controlled news media revealed satisfaction that the United States had opted for negotiations rather than the immediate, gun-blazing Western intervention demanded by Bosnian Muslims.

Officials, however, privately expressed concern that the Clinton administration will now bend over backward to mollify the Muslims, who object to a proposal by international mediators Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into 10 ethnic autonomous regions.

Proposed changes in the Vance-Owen map call for more Serbian territorial concessions. Washington has also sought stricter enforcement of United Nations sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro, which form the rump Yugoslavia.

"The bottom line is that nothing much has changed for the moment," said one Yugoslav analyst. "What's new is that an American diplomat [Reginald Bartholomew, ambassador to NATO] will join Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen."

Perhaps the most heartening aspect for the Serbs was bringing in Russia as a formal participant in the peace process. Apart from Greece, Russia is seen here as being the only ally to Serbia, the dominant republic left after former Yugoslavia crumbled.

The inclusion of Russia, said one diplomat, reflected "a shift in the international balance" the Serbs hope to exploit to their advantage. Serbia is considered the aggressor in the Bosnia war, encouraging Serbs in Bosnia to fight for an ethnically pure state.

Still, by throwing his lot with Mr. Vance and Lord Owen, Mr. Clinton may effectively strengthen the peace process. Diplomats here believe that a stricter enforcement of U.N. sanctions would make the government of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic pursue a more conciliatory course and make his clients in Bosnia do the same. Yugoslavia's economy is already in shambles, plagued by rampant unemployment, roaring inflation and widespread scarcities.

In Bosnia yesterday, Muslim forces in Sarajevo launched a major new offensive in which four French soldiers were wounded, with the U.N.-run airport in the cross-fire, a U.N. spokesman said.

The spokesman said the attack was aimed at the Serbian stronghold in the suburb of Ilidza near the airport. He said all U.N. activities at the airport are now suspended.

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