Peace in Bosnia Still Depends on Combatants

February 14, 1993|By RANDAL ASHLEY

"We don't do mountains" is apparently as much a policy of Bill Clinton as it was of George Bush when it comes to military intervention amid the rugged land and bitter people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

President Clinton will "bring the full weight of American diplomacy to bear" on stopping the slaughter in Bosnia, but the outcome depends on the Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims reaching their own agreement to end the three-way war.

Assuming that U.S. diplomats can work magic on Balkan minds and achieve a cease-fire, then -- and only then -- would the United States commit U.S. forces to "implement and enforce" the peace plan -- as a small part of an international force.

Don't plan on vacationing on the Dalmatian coast any time soon.

On Wednesday, hours before Secretary of State Warren Christopher laid out the Clinton administration's plan for dealing with the Bosnian crisis, leaders of ethnic Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia were working toward uniting the territories they hold.

Zdravko Zecevic, head of the Croatian Serbs, and Vladimir Lukic, his Bosnian counterpart, announced plans for a referendum on forming a greater Serbian state.

At his press conference, Mr. Christopher said, "We will seek to assure the survival of Bosnia as a state."

We might be the only ones involved who want that -- aside from the Bosnian Muslims who now run the government but have lost most of the territory.

As the U.S. plan was being announced, the Serbs and Muslims were fighting in eastern Bosnia for a road that links the nation of Serbia with Serb-held areas of Bosnia. Armies need supply lines.

In northern Bosnia, Croats and Muslims shelled a route between Serbia and Serb-held areas of Bosnia and Croatia.

In central Bosnia, Croats and Muslims shelled each other in an effort to gain control of territory that they hope to claim if the U.N. peace plan dividing Bosnia into 10 autonomous regions ever goes into effect.

Croats and Serbs shelled each other in Croatia near the port city jTC Zadar.

But despite peace not breaking out all over, U.N. diplomats were happy that the United States is coming in on their side.

Cyrus Vance, the former U.S. secretary of state who created the peace plan with European Community envoy Lord Owen, said he was "generally pleased" with the Clinton administration action.

Russia, which is siding a bit with their Slavic brothers in Serbia, called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt the Vance-Owen plan.

Britain, France and Canada apparently like the Clinton administration plan. They have troops on the ground in Bosnia trying to get humanitarian relief to starving citizens. Christopher made clear that these countries felt the lives of their soldiers would be in grave danger if the United States lifted the ban on arms sales to Bosnia or used U.S. air power to try to halt Serbian shelling.

He did neither.

The United States currently has only two Army lieutenant colonels and a major attached to the U.N. Protection Force staff. There is also an Army MASH unit in the Croatian capital, charged with treating casualties and medical problems among the U.N. forces.

So while Mr. Christopher admits that the United States has "no prescribed solution" but that "we cannot ignore the human toll," most Americans are probably much relieved that there is no commitment of U.S. troops unless there is a peace agreement.

Pentagon officials have never made a secret of the fact that they don't want to commit troops to a potential "quagmire."

Even House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) sent a letter to the White House Wednesday urging President Clinton not to commit U.S. troops in the region. "There are no circumstances under which American ground forces should be deployed to the Balkans," he wrote.

Mr. Gingrich included this insight: "Mountains are notoriously hard places in which to fight."

Randal Ashley is foreign editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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