Consider force to help Bosnian civilians, U.S. panel says

April 11, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A team of experts sent to Bosnia b President Clinton to assess the plight of civilians caught in the fighting has urged Washington to seriously consider military intervention to end the suffering.

In a draft report, the group recommended considering civilian "safe havens" protected by international forces and stronger military action to both ensure the delivery of aid and silence the heavy artillery Serbian forces have used to shell cities.

But at the instruction of senior officials, the group withheld recommendations on the use of force -- which run counter to current administration policy -- from Congress in closed-door briefings last week.

An executive summary of a draft report, prepared in March, was obtained by the New York Times from an official who believes the material should be part of the public debate on the crisis.

The group's findings question the fundamental premise of the West's approach in Bosnia, which has been to deliver food to Muslim towns and cities shelled by Bosnian Serbs while refraining from using force to protect the civilians.

The 26-member team said the main threat to Bosnian civilians is not starvation but attacks by Bosnian Serbs on populated areas, which have killed and wounded civilians and forced them to flee through mountainous terrain in sub-zero temperatures.

The team's members included State Department and military officials, relief experts from the Agency for International Development and doctors from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"Even the best humanitarian program," their summary states, "will be of limited utility as long as more direct or forceful means are not applied to end the conflict itself or, at least, to shift its focus away from the civilian population."

Their proposal to consider creating "safe havens," in which Western military power would be used to protect civilians, has stirred consternation at high levels of the Clinton administration because it implies the use of ground troops and the use of air power to deter Serbian attacks.

The team's report comes as the Clinton administration has reached a crossroads on its Bosnia policy. With Bosnian Serbs adamantly refusing to sign a peace accord, and their attacks on civilians continuing, the Clinton administration is struggling over what to do next.

Senior administration officials acknowledged that they ordered the omission of the recommendations on force in the briefings to House and Senate committees.

In explaining the decision to withhold the team's key conclusions, one top administration official said the recommendations were meant for internal review and that the experts had been sent to assess the needs for relief in Bosnia, not propose new policies on military intervention.

But another official insisted that the team had a broad mandate and that the cool response to its views by the State Department and National Security Council amounted to "a shoot the messenger approach."

The team's mission was announced by Secretary of State

Warren M. Christopher on Feb. 10 as part of a package of measures President Clinton had approved to stem the bloodshed.

In another of its recommendations, the team suggested that the administration encourage and assist the United Nations in opening the airport in Tuzla, a city in Eastern Bosnia that the team said would be swamped with refugees if nearby enclaves fell to attacking Serbian forces. Refugees have already been evacuated to Muslim-held Tuzla.

Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, denied that the administration was suppressing the team's findings by withholding the recommendations from lawmakers.

"It is inaccurate to suggest that there is anything unusual about the administration wanting to follow through on its own deliberations before briefing parties outside the administration,

whether on Capitol Hill or elsewhere, on the status of those issues," Mr. Boucher said.

BALKANS UPDATE

The newspaper Le Monde in PARIS reported earlier that France has decided to recall Gen. Philippe Morillon, the commander of U.N. troops in Bosnia, and that he could return home as early as next week. The authoritative daily said armed forces chiefs decided to end Morillon's tour because the U.N. mission in Bosnia was becoming less humanitarian and "more offensive" as Western states prepared to enforce a U.N. no-fly zone over Bosnia. A senior United Nations official in Sarajevo denied the report.

U.N. relief flights to and from the Bosnian capital SARAJEVO were suspended after Serb forces were seen moving anti-aircraft guns within range, U.N. officials said.

Local Muslim authorities in SREBRENICA stopped a United Nations aid convoy from evacuating refugees from the besieged Bosnian town, despite the start of a new U.N.-sponsored cease-fire. Serbs closed in before the truce, forcing more Muslims from outlying areas to flood the town.

Two French corporals were killed when their gasoline tanker overturned on a road near BIHAC in northwest Bosnia Friday, an army spokesman in Paris said. The deaths brought the number of French military personnel killed in ex-Yugoslavia to more than a dozen.

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