UNITED NATIONS, NY — IT is not the full-fledged military intervention that the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina have been urging. Yet the United Nations is edging closer to its next declared goal in easing that nation's conflict: reopening Sarajevo airport to get relief supplies to besieged residents of Bosnia's capital city.
Having already witnessed more than a dozen broken cease-fires and numerous attacks on UN and other relief convoys in Bosnia, the UN Security Council is moving in measured steps.
Members, who met this week to discuss UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's latest report on the situation, want to be sure a cease-fire is in place that will hold for more than 24 hours.
When the secretary-general finally signals a green light, the Council is expected to authorize deployment of 1,100 peacekeeping troops which Canada has offered to make temporarily available from its contingent now on duty in Croatia. The troops are to reopen the airport and protect and distribute relief supplies. Anti-aircraft and heavy weapons, used by Bosnian Serbs to control the airport from the surrounding hills, are to be moved back and concentrated in as few as a half-dozen positions where they wil l be supervised by UN personnel.
Though some analysts have argued that 1,100 troops may not be nearly enough, UN Ambassador Jean-Bernard Merimee of France says it would be "unrealistic" for the Council to send more. "The job is to protect the airport, not the entire area; in my opinion, a thousand people should be enough." Indeed, France successfully sent three convoys of food and medicine by road into Sarajevo in recent days accompanied only by a handful of relief workers, said France's minister of health and humanitarian affairs, Bern ard Kouchner.
In a letter sent this week to Security Council President Paul Noterdaeme, Bosnian Foreign Minister Haris Silajdzic said economic sanctions and efforts to achieve a cease-fire have proven inadequate. He urged the Council to use its powers under Article 42 of the UN Charter, which allows members to take action by air, sea, or land forces to restore peace and security. He said the airspace over his nation must be closed to outside military sorties by an air blockade.
"I think we are at a stage where coordinated military action is imperative," he explains. "We have no time.... If we are to do something, we have to do it now."
While some UN members would probably like to move more decisively, the situation is widely viewed as very dangerous. The 15-member Council has chosen its deliberate path only after considerable internal debate.
In his report to the Council this week, the secretary-general cited evidence that both Serb and Croat combatants continue to receive at least part of their financial and logistical support from outside Bosnia.
He also said that political negotiation offers the only real hope of restoring peace and containing the conflict. Constitutional talks sponsored by the European Community broke down May 27 when Bosnia's Muslim leaders pulled out to protest continued shelling by Bosnian Serbs. Lord Carrington, chairman of the EC Conference on Yugoslavia, says talks will continue in Sarajevo when the airport reopens.
Security Council President Noterdaeme noted after the meeting this week that fighting is still intense in many parts of Bosnia and that there is still a "long, long way to go" before peace is restored. The Council's relief effort, he stressed, will mark "only a beginning."