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Allies OK Naval Moves to Press Harder on Serbia

July 11, 1992|WILLIAM TUOHY and DOYLE McMANUS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

HELSINKI, Finland — The United States and its Western allies agreed Friday to move warships and helicopters into the Adriatic Sea to increase pressure on Serbia, in the first Western military action to cope with Europe's worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

The decision to begin "naval surveillance" along the coastline of what was once Yugoslavia resulted from an Italian proposal adopted by the Western European Union, the security arm of the European Community.

The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization quickly joined the decision, and U.S. officials said that Navy ships are already on their way into the Adriatic.

European and U.S. officials acknowledged that the naval operation is only a limited, initial step. The multinational fleet will be authorized only to "monitor" ships carrying cargo for Serbia and its ally Montenegro to see whether they are carrying weapons or fuel in violation of United Nations sanctions, not to stop or search them.

But the step has a wider significance because it could lead to more intrusive measures later and because it marked the first time that the allies--led by Italy and other European countries, not the United States--have intervened, even if haltingly, in the Continent's brush-fire ethnic conflicts.

"Yugoslavia . . . is a test (for) devising instruments to meet our goal not just to prevent conflicts, but to settle them," Italian Foreign Minister Vincenzo Scotti said. "This is extremely important, because this is the starting point.

"Faced with the Yugoslav situation," Scotti said, "Europe had to give a response as Europe and do it in coordination with the Atlantic Alliance."

The Western European Union and NATO made their decisions at a summit meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) that was designed to approve plans for preventing future, hypothetical conflicts in Europe but that quickly found itself overtaken by events.

The naval operation, which drew promises of participation from at least five countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, was aimed at increasing the effectiveness of U.N. sanctions that prohibit shipment of most goods except food and medicine to Serbia and Montenegro, the two remaining members of the Yugoslav federation.

The Western European Union said its naval force of five or six warships will be accompanied by naval patrol aircraft and helicopters, supplemented by a larger NATO force.

Yugoslavia's newly designated prime minister, Southern California businessman Milan Panic, made a surprise visit to Helsinki on Friday and appealed to Secretary of State James A. Baker III for support and understanding.

"I want peace," Panic declared later at a press conference notable for his display of fervor and vigor. "We discussed the need for Yugoslavia to satisfy the U.N. resolutions, and I assured him that I will do everything to do that."

But Baker said he is skeptical that Panic can keep his promises to stop the fighting.

"The world now demands deeds from Yugoslavia, not just words," Baker told reporters after his 45-minute meeting with Panic. "We've heard words before."

Panic told Baker that he has a plan to bring peace to the Balkans, beginning with a round of talks with the leaders of the region's warring states and ethnic factions.

But U.S. officials said they believe that real power in Serbia still rests in the hands of the country's aggressively nationalistic president, Slobodan Milosevic.

"They may roll over him," Baker said of Panic. "He's been a pretty successful and effective businessman, and yet I don't think he's done a lot of political work."

Told of Baker's doubts at his press conference, Panic responded with an expression he has used before: "Mr. Milosevic has his job and I have mine. God help him if he gets in my way.

"I may be the little mouse that breaks the camel's back," he added.

But when asked if he could control the ethnic Serbian militias in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina that have been attacking local Muslims, he replied: "This is an independent country. I don't think I can control anybody."

Panic said he told Baker that he plans to achieve peace by launching a new round of negotiations, and he began by meeting with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who was in Helsinki for the CSCE summit. As the next step, he said, "I will go to Sarajevo," the besieged Bosnian capital.

Panic, however, refused to provide any further specifics of his plans to bring peace to Yugoslavia and its former republics.

The joint naval operation was short on specifics as well. "The military authorities have to get together and decide exactly how big the operation ought to be, what it ought to encompass and what the rules of engagement are," Baker said. "Then they'll determine what kind of forces are needed."

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