NATO air strikes would put foreigners in danger, warns Bosnian Serb leader

February 08, 1994|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic issued a veiled warning last night that no foreigners would be safe in Bosnia if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization launches air strikes against his positions in and around Sarajevo.

In a televised interview from his stronghold of Pale, Mr. Karadzic said Bosnian Serbs "would defend ourselves with all means."

But, he added, "I do think that, if there would be any air strikes, we would partially lose control. And in the ensuing chaos, anything is possible. That means that foreigners would not be safe and secure in Bosnia."

The warning came on the eve of a NATO foreign ministers conference to decide whether to use air power to lift the 22-month-old siege of Sarajevo after Saturday's marketplace massacre.

It appeared to be aimed at European nations, mainly Britain and France, who have a substantial number of lightly armed peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and who fear their troops would be targeted in retaliation for any air strike.

Rumors are circulating here that the Bosnian Serb army has been placed on full alert in the expectation of air strikes. There is little doubt that allied planes would meet resistance in Bosnia, according to diplomatic observers.

"These people are not Iraqis," said one observer. "They have a lot of equipment. They have nothing to lose."

All indications are that Belgrade officials are taking the threat of air strikes extremely seriously.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic joined the international outrage over the massacre, insisting the "criminals" responsible for it should be arrested and tried.

Mr. Milosevic, who rarely comments on any events in Bosnia, took the unusual step of issuing a statement in an apparent effort to defuse the situation.

Vladislav Jovanovic, the Serbian foreign minister, said later, "We expect a consistent and unbiased investigation [into the matter]."

Mr. Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, has asked the U.N. to determine the location from which the fatal mortar round was fired.

In another effort to head off intervention, Mr. Karadzic was reported to have accepted a proposal by U.N. peace negotiators for placing Sarajevo under U.N. control. There was no immediate indication whether Muslims would accept the idea.

There is little doubt, however, that official Belgrade was viewing the latest crisis with utmost concern.

Mr. Milosevic, the Serbian leader, was said by sources to view the marketplace attack as a potentially severe blow to his policies. He is also said to be frustrated by his inability to control Bosnian Serb forces.

Mr. Milosevic's principal objectives are to keep Serbia out of war and engineer the lifting of U.N. sanctions, which have crippled his country's economy. He is the dominant leader of a rump Yugoslavia consisting of Serbia and Montenegro.

Bosnian Serb leaders have denied any official responsibility for the marketplace attack. They said it was most likely the work of Muslim radicals eager to win international sympathy and invite foreign intervention.

However, a senior Bosnian Serb official, Momcilo Krajisnik, said a "third force" may have been responsible, a suggestion that the mortar may have been fired by rogue elements in the Bosnian Serb army or by various brigands operating in Bosnia.

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