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Hold Your Breath--Is There Hope? : Serb concession; NATO strike in Bosnia

August 06, 1994

It is almost impossible to wax optimistic about Bosnia-Herzegovina without running the risk of seeming foolish or at least naive. After all, the world has seen other major "turning points" in this crisis before. The most memorable, perhaps, was the once-heralded and now almost wholly forgotten London agreement. This 1992 deal, agreed to by all the parties, was supposed to deliver every party's heavy weapons into U.N. hands and serve as the comprehensive settlement of the conflict. And look what has happened since.

Even so, there can be no denying that if Belgrade does cut off its support for its fellow Serb warriors in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that would be a potentially pivotal development. And there can be no denying the apparent and immediate impact of the NATO air strike Friday against Serb military positions still within the so-called total exclusion zone around Sarajevo.

MAKING THE POINT: Established by U.N. Security Council resolutions, the exclusion zone was violated earlier this week by Bosnian Serb forces. Now, with air strikes ordered by Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, the U.N. commander, the Serbs have experienced a Western reaction that will surely get their attention. All the evidence since the failed London agreement suggests that the Serbs are oblivious to all factors, whether moral, ethical or their own public promises, except for force.

Thus, in the aftermath of the bombing action, the Bosnian Serbs reportedly told the United Nations they will immediately return all weapons taken from a U.N. collection depot near Sarajevo--the immediate provocation for the NATO retaliation. If they do as they say, this will be further proof of what many of us have been saying all along: that even a moderate measure of force will work to rein in Serbian aggression.

FEELING THE PINCH: That axiom may be somewhat less true now of the Serbs in Belgrade, who apparently feel fully the deep and harsh pinch of U.N. economic sanctions. Furiously, it seems, Belgrade is seeking to have those sanctions eased and dropped--perhaps even if they have to throw their Bosnian warrior friends over the side. If they stick to that line, sanctions could, and perhaps even should, be lifted someday. But in return for ending all sanctions, the West must insist on an end to Serbian aggression not just in Bosnia-Herzegovina but elsewhere in that region.

Still, if Belgrade does cease shipping arms and supplies to its Bosnian allies, how long a test of good faith would be reasonable? The world's goal here should be to end the fighting and establish a stable peace. If things were to go very well indeed, the sanctions could perhaps be eased as early as Christmas.

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