ZAGREB, CROATIA — FEW other regions have cried wolf as effectively and as frequently as the former Yugoslavia over the last three years, but the momentum toward a wider war, a United Nations pullout, and a United States-backed bombing campaign is slowly building and may soon be irreversible, diplomats warn.
The difference between this spring's warnings and previous ones, is that the West's resolve to solve the conflict may be decreasing, while the willingness of the parties involved to take matters into their own hand militarily is growing.
``You can't force people to live together,'' a Western diplomat says. ``I thought by now we'd have a peace agreement. The situation is not very encouraging.''
The dominoes that could trigger a wider war are now neatly in place, diplomats say.
* A final decision on Croatia's surprise move of ordering all 12,000 UN peacekeepers out of the country is expected by March 31. Public support for ousting the UN has been strong after three years of the blue helmets' presence has failed to lead to the Croatian government regaining control of the one-third of the country seized by rebel Serbs in 1991. Croatian leaders are vowing to take back the area by force if necessary, and neighboring Serbia has promised to come to the defense of Serbs in Croatia if they are attacked.
* On April 31, the four-month cessation of hostilities agreement between the Muslim-led Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs is set to expire. Fighting has continued to rage in the northwest Muslim enclave of Bihac, and negotiators from the ``contact group'' - comprised of the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia - have made no progress in getting the Bosnian Serbs to accept a partition of the country that would require them to give up a third of the 70 percent of Bosnia they now hold.
* Senate Majority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas has promised to bring his proposal to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian government up for a vote in May if progress has not been made in Bosnia. Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia announced that he is studying the use of a bombing campaign and a partial rearming of the Muslim-led Bosnian Army to level the playing field.
A crucial step toward or away from war will come next week when Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic visits Serbia. The West has offered to lift economic sanctions placed on Serbia more than three years ago if Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will recognize the borders of Bosnia and Croatia - effectively giving up hope of forming a ``Greater Serbia.''
``I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens in Belgrade,'' a senior Croatian diplomat says. ``But so far, [Western pressure] hasn't amounted to much.''