Md. congressional delegation takes wary view of U.S. force against Serbs

April 29, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau Staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Maryland congressional delegation is taking a cautious view toward possible U.S. military action in the former Yugoslavia, with most of the 10 members saying that any intervention should be multilateral, not unilateral.

In general, the Marylanders support the stiffened United Nations sanctions against Serbia that went into effect this week, and they support lifting the U.N. arms embargo against the Bosnian government.

Most members of the delegation, who report few calls or letters, also favor air strikes -- or, at least serious consideration of air strikes -- against Serbian military targets.

But the dispatch of ground forces is favored only by Rep. Albert R. Wynn, though some said they were willing to consider it under certain circumstances. Mr. Wynn said U.S. troops should be sent to Bosnia as part of a multinational force if other measures do not end the conflict.

"We are the sole remaining world power," said Mr. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat. "We can't stand by and allow Nazi-type atrocities to occur."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said she favors the stiffened sanctions against Serbia, lifting the arms embargo and air strikes against "military and infrastructure targets." But, said the Baltimore Democrat, "I would not support using ground troops."

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes supports the new sanctions but is unwilling to offer a prescription for further action, saying he is not privy to the military and intelligence briefings President Clinton is getting and does not know what countries think. The Baltimore Democrat emphasized that any further action "should be multilateral rather than unilateral."

Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, Constance A. Morella and Kweisi Mfume all oppose the use of ground forces.

"I am very fearful of a Vietnam," said Mrs. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, said, "I tend to agree that the introduction of ground troops would be a formula for a quicksand relationship in an area where it is hard to tell who is on first."

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley is the only member of the delegation who would not be interviewed, saying, "I'm not going to give any opinion on it" because of what she considers unfair treatment by the press.

But the Baltimore County Republican issued a written statement saying she does not support "any of the governments involved in this terrible war. My sole aim remains . . . to keep American men and women from being placed in harm's way, in a no-win situation. . . . We must continue to seek every opportunity to allow every person from the former nation of Yugoslavia to live in peace."

She said she agrees with a statement last week by Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that opposed both lifting the arms embargo and air strikes and said the "only durable solution" is a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

That statement also supported tightened sanctions against the Serbs and concluded, "Military force remains available if other measures fail -- and if an allied consensus emerges."

Mrs. Bentley was a driving force over the past two years in creating Serbnet Inc., the Serbian American National Information Network, a coalition of Serbian groups that tries to "champion the Serbian cause in the media and on Capitol Hill," according to one fund-raising letter.

Mrs. Bentley, who is of Serbian descent, stepped down last year as president of the group.

Nick Trkla, Serbnet's national coordinator, said that he still talks with Mrs. Bentley about the Balkan conflict and that she informs him of congressional activities.

Most Marylanders in the House said they are troubled by the possibility of sending ground troops.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Vietnam veteran, said it is too early to consider ground troops. "Unless you have ideal conditions, you are going to have a lot of people killed."

Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, said he did not have enough information to make a judgment, but he does not exclude the possibility of sending troops to serve "a compelling, vital national interest."

Mr. Bartlett and Mr. Gilchrest expressed skepticism about the wisdom of air strikes against Serbian targets. "Air strikes didn't knuckle Britain under in World War II, and they strengthened the resolve of Hanoi," Mr. Gilchrest said.

Members of the Maryland delegation said that, in general, mail and phone calls on the subject of Bosnia have been light. Most who do call and write want the United States "to do something" but generally offer no specific prescriptions.

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