THE European Community has thrown its support behind a "no fly" zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina to safeguard against attacks on planes and land convoys carrying food and other aid into the war-torn republic.
The EC proposal, announced at a meeting of foreign ministers in Hertfordshire, Britain, over the weekend, will go to the United Nations Security Council for further consideration. But it falls short of United States calls for a total exclusion zone to be monitored by aircraft, as is currently happening over Iraq.
The EC approach proposes the stationing of UN observers at airports held by Serbian forces in Bosnia. A British source said the aim would be to prevent Serbian military jets from using air corridors designated for relief flights to mount bombing and rocket attacks on targets in Bosnia.
Military sources were reported over the weekend as saying that Serbian planes stationed at Banja Luka in northern Bosnia have been shadowing relief aircraft on their way to Sarajevo, then heading off to make bombing attacks on population centers.
US officials last week proposed that a total exclusion zone be established in the skies above Bosnia and that it be monitored from the air.
British Prime Minister John Major, who currently holds the EC's rotating presidency, was said by officials to be unhappy with the US plan. France was reported to favor the deployment of air combat patrols to shepherd humanitarian convoys, but did not press the point strongly at the Hertfordshire meeting.
The foreign ministers, however, endorsed a no-fly zone monitored from the ground, subject to UN approval.
Pressure for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Bosnia increased last week when UN officials confirmed that an Italian relief plane that crashed 12 days ago had been shot down.
Radovan Karadzic, leader of Bosnia's Serbs, was reported yesterday to have attacked plans to create a no-fly zone. He claimed Serbian military aircraft were being used to carry sick and wounded troops and civilians.
The foreign ministers also announced a tightening up of existing sanctions against Serbia and Bosnia. In a communique they said customs officials were being sent to Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary to look for sanctions violations, particularly along the Danube River.
Fuel and other supplies have been reaching Serbia via the Danube in recent weeks. The customs officials also will be asked to look for violations on road routes into Serbia and Montenegro.
No new sanctions were ordered by the foreign ministers, but sources in one delegation said the closure of EC embassies in Belgrade and a total shutdown of all postal and telecommunications services were among the ideas discussed.
The foreign ministers, the sources said, also favored the establishment of a special court to try people suspected of atrocities in the fighting.
The meeting heard a report prepared by EC officials on the impact of sanctions on Serbia.
Inflation was running at 7,000 percent, the report said. Unemployment is expected to rise to more than 50 percent by the end of the year. Oil imports are down by 80 percent, and trade is down by between 50 to 75 percent.
The report described the effect of sanctions as "devastating."
Lord Owen, the EC peace mediator - who visited Bosnia last week with UN Special Envoy Cyrus Vance - told ministers at the Hertfordshire meeting that there had been some progress in putting Serbian heavy artillery under UN supervision.
He confirmed however that Mr. Karadzic had asked for and was being given more time to comply in surrendering weapons, a demand that emerged from last month's London conference. Reports from Sarajevo over the weekend said the city was still being shelled from the surrounding hills.
Lord Owen reported that the position of Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic appeared to have strengthened.
Mr. Panic is in conflict with Slobodan Milosevic, the hard-line president of Serbia.