Border monitors not welcome, Serbs say Leaders' posture on Bosnia hardens

May 26, 1993|By Craig R. Whitney | Craig R. Whitney,New York Times News Service

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbian leaders told a Russian mediator yesterday that they were not prepared to accept international monitors on their border with Bosnia and Herzegovina to verify assertions that they were not supplying Bosnian Serb forces with weapons or other military supplies.

President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, who a month ago said international observers would be welcome to confirm that his government was enforcing an embargo on military aid to Bosnian Serbs, told Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian deputy foreign minister, that there was now "no need" for them.

This confirmed a stiffening in Serbian attitudes in recent days that reflected their clear sense that they had won the war against the Muslim-led Bosnian government forces, and that the feared U.S. and European pressure against the Serbs had dissipated.

Mr. Milosevic had endorsed the so-called Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia and had announced an embargo against the Bosnian Serbs when they refused to accept it. This appeared to be done in part to persuade the West to lift the economic sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro, the two states that make up what is left officially of Yugoslavia.

On Monday, Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, told Mr. Churkin that his side would never recognize the division of Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous regions as provided in the Vance-Owen plan.

Serbs will recognize only one Bosnian state, the "Republika Srpska" that Bosnian Serbs have carved out of lands they now control in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Karadzic said. "On this, we will not give up," he vowed.

The hardening of terms reflected the Serbs' general contempt for the plan announced by the United States, Russia and three European countries last weekend to contain the war, a plan Mr. Churkin came to Belgrade to explain to their leaders before making a brief trip to the Serbian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians constitute more than 90 percent of the population.

Mr. Milosevic said the plan was seen as proof that the international community had decided against military intervention in the Balkans, but officials made clear that what he really meant was that the Clinton administration had backed off from the use of force.

A few months ago, when they did not know what President Clinton's policy would be, Serbian officials were acting more contritely, and some said they were willing to compromise to find peace.

Now that it is clear that Mr. Clinton and the United States' European allies are not going to commit their military forces to a cruel war in the Balkans, the Serbs have abandoned such statements, dismissing the latest international admonitions to shape up or face "new and tougher measures" as empty saber-rattling.

The language of brute force is understood in a part of the world where Serbs, Croats and Muslims have intermittently slaughtered and intermingled with each other for centuries. But they also can read the plain language in the weekend declaration out of Washington that makes clear that the Americans and Europeans are simply not willing to risk their own lives and money to stop the fighting here.

Few Serbs would disagree with the German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, who a few weeks ago complained that the Serbs had led the Western countries around by the nose for the last year, promising peace while continuing war, and that little has changed today.

At the time Mr. Clinton was proposing to lift the arms embargo for the Muslim-led Bosnian government forces and mount selected air strikes against Serbian positions, Mr. Milosevic persuaded Mr. Karadzic to support the Vance-Owen peace plan. But the self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament, supported by an overwhelming majority of voters, again rejected the plan early this month, and now both Serbian leaders clearly regard the plan as dead.

Perhaps it was not only the threat of military force that made Mr. Milosevic waver briefly. The international economic embargo against Serbia is crushing the life out of its economy. There are now 1.5 million unemployed, about 50 percent of the labor force. As a cashier at the Hyatt Hotel joked the other day while counting a huge stack of 50,000-dinar bills, each now worth only about 16 cents, she wasn't worried about robbers, because skyrocketing inflation had made the money worth virtually nothing.

But even the ordinary Serbs who are the worst affected do not seem to object to the leaders whose war policies have brought misery upon them. Americans here are routinely accosted by people who blame Mr. Clinton for their deprivations.

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