NATO Air Attack Was Unavoidable, Clinton Says

NATO forces have proved they mean business in Bosnia. The questions now are how Bosnian Serbs will react to the use of force against them and what that means for the level of United States and Western military involvement.

In shooting down four aircraft - at the time of this writing they were thought to have been flown by Bosnian Serbs - that had violated the no-fly zone over Bosnia, NATO has taken a step that the West previously hesitated to make.

(There had been about 1,200 violations of Bosnian air space before NATO took action, Ron Scherer reports from the UN.)

This use of force may well make it easier for the United Nations to keep shells from falling on Sarajevo, by enhancing the credibility of its threats to besieging Bosnian Serbs.

But there is also a chance that the air action could have the opposite effect, inciting Serbs to further violence. The Muslim-held town of Tuzla came under heavy bombardment yesterday hours after the Super Galeb light-attack aircraft were shot down by NATO F-16s based in Italy. The attack could also have repercussions on the talks between Bosnian Muslims and Croats now taking place in Washington. US diplomats are urging these parties to unite their sections of Bosnia in a federation of ethnically based cantons, similar to that of Switzerland or Belgium.

Asked about the shoot-down yesterday morning, President Clinton said: ``Every attempt was made, to the best of our information, to avoid this encounter.'' The Super Galeb jets ignored two warnings to land, he said. The no-fly zone over Bosnia has been often violated in the past by Serb helicopters. But Mr. Clinton indicated that the Super Galebs were the first fixed-wing aicraft to violate the zone since last fall. Fixed-wing craft ``are much more serious, because they have the capacity to to engage in military conduct from the air,'' said Clinton.

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