WASHINGTON — President Bush and British Prime Minister John Major announced Sunday that they will seek U.N. authority to send air patrols over Bosnia-Herzegovina to stop Serbian military aircraft from flying there.
But officials added that they hope to deter the Serbs without shooting down planes or bombing Serbian airfields.
Bush and Major said they also are working on new measures to prevent the fighting among the former republics of the Yugoslav federation from spreading into neighboring Macedonia and the Serbian province of Kosovo. The efforts would include an enlarged U.N. observer force and a warning to Serbia that attacks in those areas would draw severe sanctions.
In a joint statement issued at the White House after a weekend of meetings at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., Bush and Major said they will join forces in the U.N. Security Council to win a resolution to enforce the "no-fly zone" over Bosnia.
"The aim of the resolution would be to prevent flights taking place other than those specifically authorized by the United Nations," the statement said.
The Security Council imposed a ban on military flights over Bosnia in a resolution approved Oct. 9 but did not authorize any measures to enforce the ban.
Since then, U.S. and British officials said, Serbian aircraft have stopped bombing and strafing Bosnian and Croatian targets. But the Serbs have violated the ban with more than 200 airplane and helicopter flights over Bosnia, apparently ferrying military commanders and weaponry around the republic.
U.S. and British officials said they envision enforcing the ban by putting warplanes from the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries on patrol over Bosnia and that they hope to avoid actually shooting down any Serbian aircraft.
"Enforcement comes in different packages," a senior British official said. "You could have combat air patrols that would keep Serbia's small planes on the ground or force them down. You could, on the other end, shoot them down." But he added that Major believes that shooting the Serbian planes down is "not based on reality."
Officials said they also would give the Serbs a "grace period" to allow them to move their aircraft out of Bosnia if they choose to do so.
Both U.S. and British officials acknowledge that enforcing the ban will have little or no real effect on the conduct of the war. But they say that the issue is important "to show (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic . . . that there is a limit to how far they (Serbian forces) can go," a senior British official said.
At the same time, officials said they worry that enforcing the ban by shooting down Serbian aircraft may prompt Serbian forces to retaliate by attacking the U.N. humanitarian aid convoys that are supplying Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities.
That kind of retaliation has been a special concern for Major, because the U.N. force in Bosnia includes 2,400 British troops. But Bush and his aides said the issue worried them too.
"We are very sensitive to the fact that sons and daughters from other countries are serving on the ground in Sarajevo," Bush said Sunday. "We owe them prudence in making these decisions."
As a result, Bush and Major sought a compromise that would convey the Western powers' determination to enforce the ban without touching off a direct military confrontation between the United Nations and the Serbs.
U.S. and British officials said they do not expect much difficulty in winning the Security Council's approval for a new resolution. "I think we will have (it) within a week or so at the longest," Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said.
Bush and Major also expressed concern that the fighting in Bosnia could expand into the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia or the province of Kosovo, a part of Serbia whose population is 90% ethnic Albanian.
Major also discussed the Yugoslav problem by telephone with President-elect Bill Clinton and found him generally supportive, British officials said.
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