Clinton considers air-dropped relief for Bosnians Cease-fire ordered to aid U.N. convoys

February 21, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau Staff writer Susan Baer contributed to this article

WAHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The United States moved toward deeper intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina yesterday as President Clinton weighed a proposal from his top advisers to begin air drops of humanitarian relief to besieged Muslim areas that U.N. convoys have been unable to reach.

The risky venture over eastern Bosnia could expose military cargo planes to ground fire from Serbs seeking to block food deliveries, U.S. and United Nations officials have said.

Without an adequate distribution system on the ground, there was also no certainty that the aid, and enough to make a difference, would reach its intended targets, officials said. Up to 100,000 people are in desperate need of food and medicine in eastern Bosnia, behind Serbian lines, according to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.

Although senior U.S. officials refused to say whether the cargo planes would have protection from U.S. or NATO fighter planes, this appeared to be necessary in the absence of a clear commitment from Serbian forces not to impede relief efforts.

Meanwhile, the United States planned to renew its effort in the U.N. Security Council to persuade reluctant European allies to approve military action to enforce a U.N.-imposed no-fly zone over the war-ravaged country. The Serbs are the only faction with an air force.

Mr. Clinton confirmed his consideration of the air-drop plan during his televised town hall meeting with children yesterday, after the Washington Post reported that his national security advisers had agreed to recommend it.

Calling air drops "an option," the president said that there are "a lot of children in Bosnia who now can't get food and medicine."

On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali ordered a resumption of relief efforts to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, and eastern Bosnia, countermanding a decision made two days before by the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata.

Separately, the United Nations persuaded Serbian forces who had been blocking relief convoys seeking to enter Muslim towns and villagesin eastern Bosnia to allow the U.N. relief trucks to proceed.

Yesterday, Mr. Izetbegovic ordered his army to observe an immediate unilateral cease-fire across Bosnia, and urged Sarajevo to end a boycott of U.N. aid.

Government sources told the Associated Press that the indefinite cease-fire was called to assist the passage of U.N. aid convoys in eastern Bosnia, where Serbian obstruction of aid deliveries had led Sarajevo to call its protest boycott.

Air drops would mark the first significant increase in U.S. involvement in the Yugoslav war since Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher announced 10 days ago that the United States would take an active diplomatic role in trying to end the year-old conflict among Serbs, Muslims and Croats.

At the time, Mr. Christopher pledged increased efforts to ensure that humanitarian aid got through.

If President Clinton, as expected, approves the air drops, the United States would consult with other countries on the plan. But the prevailing administration view was that additional authorization from the U.N. Security Council was not needed, since the council already had endorsed the delivery of humanitarian relief by all necessary means.

The plight of Muslims in eastern Bosnia has set back negotiations on a peace settlement.

Mr. Izetbegovic, a Muslim, had refused to leave the capital of Sarajevo this week while U.N. relief efforts were suspended. In what a U.N. official described as an "After you, Alphonse" tactic, the leader of Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, also resisted coming to New York, saying the negotiations should be transferred back to Geneva.

Cyrus Vance, the U.N.-appointed mediator, urged Mr. Karadzic privately to appear. U.N. officials were confident he would come once Mr. Izetbegovic moved.

Mr. Karadzic, who encountered a hostile reception in New York earlier this month, has another reason to stay away. The Security Council is expected to take up as early as tomorrow a resolution instructing Mr. Boutros-Ghali to move forward on plans to set up a tribunal to prosecute war crimes arising from the Yugoslav conflict.

Mr. Karadzic has been named by the United States as one of those who has to answer to war-crimes accusations.

U.N. officials were annoyed at Clinton administration plans to invite Mr. Izetbegovic to the White House before he came to New York, fearing he'd be encouraged to stall.

But a U.S. official said yesterday the administration planned to urge the Bosnian leader to re-enter negotiations on a peace plan drawn up by Mr. Vance and the European Community envoy, Lord Owen.

In appointing Reginald Bartholomew as a special envoy to assist the negotiators, the United States intended to assure Mr. Izetbegovic of sympathetic support in negotiations and assure him as well that no solution would be imposed on the militarily weaker Muslims.

Both the air-drop plan and the renewed American effort to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia represent moves to bolster the Muslim cause. Both, however, continue to draw European resistance.

Britain in particular believes that all efforts should be made first to move U.N. convoys into Muslim areas before air drops are considered.

Britain also opposes enforcement of a no-fly zone until a political settlement is reached and it becomes part of an overall NATO effort to police the agreement.

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