As Conflict Spreads, UN Council Faces Test on Former Yugoslavia

WHATEVER its successes, the United Nations Security Council so far has failed as a guarantor of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, says Turkey's UN ambassador.

"The Council's general approach has been half-hearted, wishy-washy, impotent, and passive," says Ambassador Mustafa Aksin. The Council's hesitancy to enforce its October ban on military flights over Bosnia, he says, sends a message "loud and clear to the Serb aggressors that they have a green light."

Fighting spread Friday, the day before peace talks were to pick up in Geneva. The Croatian offensive against Serb forces near the Croatian town of Maslenica on the Adriatic coast broke a year-long UN cease-fire in Croatia. Observers said the action threatened to scuttle the talks. A Russian diplomat said yesterday he would call for sanctions on Croatia unless the offensive stopped.

The UN Security Council condemned the outbreak of fighting in UN-protected areas of Croatia, telling Croatian authorities to withdraw to previous positions. Serb leaders want a stronger rebuke.

While the Clinton administration was expected to begin meetings early this week to shape policy on the Yugoslav conflict, the Security Council has continued to wait on Washington and Geneva - acting at the same time as a lighting rod for the sharpest criticisms of international inaction.

Days ago young Muslims, demonstrating near the UN, vented anger at the Council and UN secretary-general. "Boutros-Ghali, shame on you," they chanted. "Stop the killing. Lift the arms embargo" preventing arms from flowing to Bosnia.

The Security Council is expected this week to issue a new warning to warring parties in Bosnia to cooperate fully in getting aid to those in need. A recent US report charged that as much as one-fourth of the aid was being siphoned off by Serb forces.

Still, the feeling persists among many analysts that only military action, or an end to the Yugoslav arms embargo that has left ill-equipped Bosnian troops at a marked disadvantage, can stop the fighting. President Clinton has promised a more activist policy and is said to be looking at possible UN air protection for relief convoys, or air drops of supplies. Any move to lift the arms embargo, a prospect he has mentioned, would require a sales pitch to persuade the rest of the Council.

The US has for some time been more enthusiastic than other Council members about enforcing the Bosnian no-fly zone. While the US has bowed to the 30-day warning period preferred by other members, the Council is divided over whether to attack only planes in the air that violate the ban, or to include airfields. Britain and France, which have peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, are concerned about retaliation. The Russian Federation, under increasing pressure from hard-liners at home to side with their longtime

Serb allies, may endorse the plan, says a Western diplomat - but only if Council action is strictly limited.

Council members often cite the ongoing Geneva talks as their key reason for inaction. Co-chairmen of the talks Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen say diplomacy should have a fair chance.

Turkey has taken the roll as lead critic among Islamic nations here. Ambassador Aksin says Council action now would be more likely to help than hinder the talks. In addition to enforcing the no-fly zone, he says, the Council should implement its demand for a cease-fire and for placement of all heavy weapons under UN control. Serb aggressors, he says, have been allowed to "bully and scare UN forces into passivity" when it is the UN that should be forcing the warring parties into compliance.

HOWEVER weak the UN may look, many analysts say that the world body is correct to move cautiously. They say Bosnia poses far more challenging problems in logistics, terrain, and troop and weapons movements than either Somalia or Iraq. "The situation in Bosnia is unpredictable and extremely complicated," says Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University. "When you unravel one of these delicately balanced federal states, it's extraordinarily dangerous." Both Lebanon and Cambodia i llustrate the risks in trying to "manipulate" such conflicts, he says.

"This is the classic ... undefinable mission," says Edwin Smith, an expert on military issues and a professor of law at the University of Southern California. "The terrain is the worst possible. The distribution of arms is the worst possible. It's just a nightmarish proposition. There are those in the Muslim world who believe that something has to be done, whatever the cost.... From a military point of view, there really isn't a cheap way to do this in the sense of avoiding very, very large losses of hum an life."

Aksin says if the Council is unwilling to take further enforcement action, it should lift the arms embargo.

The right of self-defense is "incontestable," he says, and supported by the UN charter. More arms could intensify the fighting, he concedes. Yet lifting the embargo would also raise the cost of aggression and provide incentives for talks, he says.

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