THE United Nations Security Council meets in closed session today to talk about what further action it may want to take to reopen Bosnia-Herzegovina's Sarajevo airport to bring in crucial relief supplies.
In an ultimatum delivered June 26, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali gave Serb forces 48 hours to stop their latest military offensive and move their remaining heavy artillery to locations monitored by the UN. If Serb forces do not comply, he said, the Security Council would have to consider "other means" of bringing in relief supplies.
Few diplomats have been eager to talk about options still open to the Council if an enduring cease-fire is not in place by this morning. Yet many concede that a limited military action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which deals with aggressive threats to the peace, may be the only way left to get humanitarian aid in.
Meanwhile, the effects of international sanctions imposed on Serbia to halt the fighting brought some 100,000 demonstrators into the streets of Belgrade yesterday, demanding the resignation of President Slobodan Milosevic. (Ethnic Albanians resist Serb domination, Page 2.)
Serb forces have held hundreds of thousands of citizens of Sarajevo and the nearby suburb of Dobrinja under siege for almost three months. A UN spokesman says food supplies are "almost zero." UN officials and world leaders have watched with growing frustration as numerous cease-fires have collapsed. The most recent to fall, late last week, had been unilaterally proclaimed by Serb forces themselves a few days before. They said provocations by Bosnian troops forced the collapse.
No nation is enthusiastic about armed intervention on behalf of relief efforts. Moving in on the heels of a durable cease-fire is preferable. Several nations have strong reservations about the intrusiveness of limited military action and about the risks involved. US national security adviser Brent Scowcroft likens Sarajevo to such "intractable" situations as those in Beirut and Northern Ireland.
Still, in recent days European and US leaders have been talking with each other and speaking out far more openly about UN military intervention than in the past. At the close of their summit meeting in Portugal, European Community leaders urged the UN to send in troops to reopen the airport "if necessary."
French President Francois Mitterrand, a leading advocate of moving more quickly on humanitarian aid, said Europe has a "moral obligation to help" and that a failure to act in the Bosnian situation could undermine public support for the EC.
At the close of the Lisbon meeting, he made a surprise trip to Bosnia to speak with its president in hopes of helping to break the blockade around Sarajevo airport and the city.
Serb forces had agreed June 5 to stop the fighting and turn over operation of the long-closed airport to UN Protection Forces in Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR). A few days later the Security Council approved an increase in UNPROFOR's size and mandate.
In a second statement issued Saturday, the secretary-general reapportioned the blame for the continued fighting. He said that Serb forces, according to UNPROFOR, had withdrawn their tanks from the airport area and Serb military attacks had stopped. Noting that new hostilities had been started by Bosnian government forces, he called on "all forces" to stop the fighting.
The back-and-forth nature of responsibility for fighting has made it tougher than usual for the Council to make its decisions.
If the Security Council does call for limited military intervention, the job would clearly require more troops than the 1,000 projected when the cooperation of all parties was expected. By some European estimates, as many as 100,000 troops may be needed. Bosnian authorities have said some kind of air blockade would be required to keep Belgrade-based jets from attacking by air and to protect ground forces.
A naval blockade is also possible. At a meeting in London late last week ministers of the nine-member Western European Union discussed possible joint naval action to bolster existing UN sanctions against Serbia.
Meanwhile NATO officials say their forces are prepared if the Security Council should order a humanitarian airlift and request help.