Comfortless Talk

MORE peace talks on Yugoslavia have begun in Geneva. But the West should not comfort itself. Without a deterrent it is hard to see how or why Serbia will end its vicious aggression against the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia.

The United Nations Friday rightly denied Serbia and Montenegro the old Yugoslav seat in the UN, asking them to reapply as a new nation. Belgrade's seat may be blocked until it lives up to any agreements made at the Geneva talks, which also began Friday.

The often windy diplomacy in Europe contrasts starkly with conditions on the ground in Bosnia. Winter is coming to Sarajevo, and little heat or fuel is available in the bombed-out city. The Serb-led campaign of "ethnic cleansing" continues in the north.

Given these conditions, what do Western leaders expect at Geneva? They seem to feel that simply rearranging the structure of negotiations will cause Serbs to cease and desist. Yet nothing in 14 months of other talks suggests this will happen. When Lord Carrington quit as chief European negotiator on Yugoslavia before the recent 22-nation London peace talks he told his successor: Watch the Serbs, they don't keep agreements. Carrington spoke from experience. All 45 agreements he negotiated were broken.

This continues: In London, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic agreed to put Serb heavy guns under a UN watch. Yet 100 new tanks rolled in and Saturday set the Bosnian parliament on fire. Mr. Karadzic agreed to ground his air force. Last week, Serb jets strafed Muslim civilians.

World attention on Bosnia has been diverted by the US elections and the tragedy in Somalia. Yet the Yugoslav crisis remains a watershed - an unleashing of a new and powerful dynamic of hate and disorder in the post-cold-war world. To treat it in status quo fashion is a sad misreading of history-in-the-making.

Nor should the West be lulled into believing Serbs have nothing left to gain in Bosnia, or that Muslims are out of danger. Some 300,000 remain under seige.

Creating a parity of blame between Muslims and Serbs is hyprocrital. A hue and cry was made when an Iranian planeload of weapons destined for Sarajevo was found in Zagreb recently. But nothing is said about shipments down the Danube to Serbia from Russia in direct violation of the embargo the West agreed in London to tighten. Barges of steel, coke, and oil are moving, but Boris Yelstin is left alone out of concern for his internal pressures.

The US negotiator in Geneva is former ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman. Fine choice. Mr. Zimmerman knows limited intervention - deterrence - is the only language Belgrade can hear.

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