EC approves proposal to lift sanctions on Serbs

November 23, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

BELGRADE -- The European Community unanimously approved a plan yesterday calling for a suspension of sanctions against Serbia in exchange for Serbian territorial concessions to the Bosnian Muslims.

The carrot-and-stick approach was seen by some diplomats as a shift away from the policy of total isolation of Serbia. "The ball is now in Milosevic's court," one diplomat said, referring to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

After yesterday's EC foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said the proposals were needed to avert a "humanitarian disaster in Bosnia" with the coming of winter and the predictions of starvation and exposure.

He said a gradual suspension of United Nations sanctions would come into effect if the Serbs make territorial concessions, agree to a cease-fire and ensure the passage of humanitarian convoys into Bosnia.

The EC foreign ministers also said they were prepared to use force to ensure that aid convoys are able to get through to some 3 million people in central Bosnia. Many are already enduring freezing conditions; during the summer, they had been unable to harvest and store food because of the fighting.

The three sides in the conflict have signed an agreement to let aid through after several weeks when convoys had been blocked by the fighting. But Mr. Hurd observed that many agreements had been signed in the past only to be dishonored.

The political leaders in the Bosnian conflict have been invited to a new round of talks in Geneva next Monday to discuss the EC proposals, including the possible suspension of sanctions against Serbia.

There was no immediate official reaction here. But the government-supervised media have given great prominence to Western debates about the proposal ever since it was first put forward by the foreign ministers of France and Germany two weeks ago.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic welcomed last night what he called the EC's new readiness "to treat all sides equally." He added: "Under sanctions we did not have a voice, we were not equal partners." He sidestepped questions about the substance of the plan.

Mr. Karadzic has been giving conflicting signals recently. Although he has repeatedly said that he was prepared for territorial concessions, before today's EC decision he had contended that no concessions would be made until the Muslims agree to sign the peace plan sponsored by international negotiators Lord David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg.

After more than 17 months of U.N. sanctions, Serbia finds itself in the grip of poverty made worse by the onset of arctic weather and snow that brought life to a halt and froze some people to death. Public transportation has virtually broken down. Public buildings are not heated because of the lack of oil and natural gas. Most homes have no heat.

The situation in Bosnia is even more desperate as fighting continues on several fronts. All sides are reported to be actively engaged in obstructing humanitarian convoys from bringing food and medicine to the needy.

The peace process broke down in September when the Muslim side refused to accept the peace plan dividing Bosnia into three ethnic states unless they were granted 3 percent to 4 percent additional territory held by the Serbs in eastern Bosnia.

The new attempt to break the logjam introduces a new element of realism, according to diplomats. "Peace in Bosnia depends on the attitudes of all three sides. We can help, but we cannot force a solution on them," a U.N. official here said.

The EC plan, which enjoys conditional support from the United States, would also have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council, which imposed the sanctions on Serbia.

An EC diplomat in Belgrade said that though Mr. Milosevic is likely to welcome the new offer of a suspension of sanctions, he would be unhappy about the territory Bosnian Serbs would have to give up in order to obtain the suspension.

"We are talking here about a small amount of territory. But that is territory in eastern Bosnia which the Serbs are desperate to control. They believe that if the Muslims have it, they will be able to create a corridor linking their enclaves. In recent weeks, we have noted a fresh Serb offensive in the region which shows they are determined to keep this," the diplomat said.

He added that the reaction to the proposal would show how desperate the Serbs are. "That piece of territory is very dear to them, but they are in desperate economic straits. We will have to see, first, if they accept it and, second, if they stick to any agreement. But they have to know that any lifting of sanctions would be conditional on implementation."

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