THE internal divisions that have plagued European Community efforts to restore peace to war-wracked former Yugoslavia appear to be easing as leaders consider new measures to halt more than 10 months of deadly violence.
Some European officials stress this week's unanimous decision by EC foreign ministers to pull out ambassadors from Belgrade as a sign of a coalescing "get-tough" attitude toward Serbia and its strong-man president, Slobodan Milosevic. German officials especially say the move is acknowledgment of its stance since war broke out last June that Serbia is the conflict's chief aggressor.
"Stopping Serbia is the key to stopping this war, and this step recognizes that," says a German foreign ministry official.
And, there were reports that members had agreed earlier this week to freeze the financial assets of Serbia and its ally Montenegro to protest Serbian attacks in newly independent Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to the London-based Guardian.
German officials told the Monitor that the decision to freeze Serbian assets had been taken. Presidents of European central banks reportedly met in Paris yesterday to discuss implementation. But EC officials in Brussels say that because this information was leaked, the chances of it being implemented are now much lower.
Even as the EC Commission in Brussels prepares a further list of economic measures that might be taken against Serbia, other Community members are speaking in tones that indicate harsher steps might have a hard time winning unanimous approval, which is required for foreign-policy action.
"We aren't at the point of sanctions, the term is not appropriate," says a French foreign ministry official. "Serbia has not proven its good will, but it is also not alone in that fault," the official adds.
France is following a "middle position," the official says, that recognizes Serbia's "responsibilities," but also seeks to keep open "channels for dialogue."
The EC's latest action, which was followed closely by a United States decision to withdraw its ambassador in Belgrade, came after continued fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Since the actions, the fighting has escalated. Less than 24 hours after a cease-fire was reached, mortar shells slammed Thursday into a Sarajevo hotel housing UN peacekeepers. The bombardment followed a call by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for most of the 300 mission members in Sarajevo to withdraw to Belgrade and Zagreb. Another hotel vacated by EC monitors two days ago in a Serb-held suburb also received a direct hit.
The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug says Serbs blame Muslim forces for starting the fighting with a mortar barrage on the suburb of Ilidza. Eyewitnesses said it was impossible to say which side opened up first.
The EC Commission is preparing a list of further steps foreign ministers could take, including a full trade embargo against Serbia, or specific measures such as petroleum and transport embargos. The foreign ministers next meet June 15.
Yet the adoption of sanctions remains in doubt. Greece, embroiled in a diplomatic tiff with neighboring Macedonia over the use of that historically sensitive name, has generally sided with Serbia during the conflict and is reluctant to approve economic sanctions that could damage its own hard-pressed economy.
Britain, too, is likely to oppose economic measures - not out of support for Serbia, but because the British generally discount the effectiveness of sanctions. "It's a question of what you think you're going to achieve," said one British official here.
A more likely action, according to the British, will be a continuing "isolation" of Serbia through what the official called "moral disapproval, making them feel increasingly an international cold shoulder."
Serbia and neighboring Montenegro have declared themselves successors to the former Yugoslavia, although the smaller state has won no international recognition.
An example of such "isolation" came Tuesday when the 52-member Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe voted that all decisions taken until the end of June concerning Bosnia will be without Yugoslavia's participation.
France and other EC countries will be watching Belgrade's actions for response to EC demands that the Yugoslav Army withdraw with all its armaments from Bosnia-Herzegovina, French officials say. In the meantime the EC has pulled its monitoring mission out of Bosnia-Herzegovina after an observer was killed. The Community's peace conference will continue, although its chairman, Lord Carrington, this week said he was "pessimistic" that positive action could be taken in the current climate.
There was scant information about fighting elsewhere in Bosnia, two-thirds of whose territory has been captured since the Moslem and Croat communities voted for independence in March.