BY announcing preparation of a "total international isolation" of the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro, European Community leaders hope to apply irresistible pressure to Bosnian Serbs mulling the latest peace plan for their war-wracked republic.
EC foreign ministers stressed that only unequivocal acceptance by Tuesday of the EC-United Nations peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina would halt measures to seal off Serbia from the rest of the world.
"Time is running out; we will not tolerate any delaying tactics," Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said after a meeting of EC leaders Wednesday. Denmark assumed the EC's rotating six-month presidency this month. "We have seen that on too many occasions in the past."
A plan to create 10 semi-autonomous provinces within the boundaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina was accepted in Geneva Tuesday by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, on condition that the "parliament" of his self-proclaimed government approve the plan within seven days.
Concerned that the Bosnian Serbs might be playing for time while the situation for Bosnia's Muslims becomes more desperate, EC officials said they are set to consider new measures against Serbia as early as next Tuesday.
"We are asking the leaders of Serbia and Montenegro to use all their undoubted influence on Serbian Bosnia," or face difficult consequences, Mr. Ellemann-Jensen said. One senior EC official said, "Total isolation means sealing off [the Serbs] from the outside world." Possible measures include cutting all communications and halting all international flights.
The Paris meeting, which took place as foreign ministers gathered for the signing of an international convention on chemical weapons, was the first opportunity of the new year for the EC's 12 members to consider jointly the Yugoslav conflict. Despite stinging criticism in Europe and elsewhere of the EC's inability to address the Balkans quagmire, the EC spent much of the last six months focused on internal issues.
The resolution at a December summit meeting of some of those internal problems, plus a realization that the Bosnian situation was quickly deteriorating, put the EC back on the Yugoslav crisis.
Still, the kind of divisions that have plagued EC efforts for the past 18 months continue to surface.
ONE of those issues is the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Greece, a member of the EC, continues to block full international recognition of the republic. Ellemann-Jensen, who has called the EC's inaction "a dark spot on our conscience" and Wednesday warned of the dire consequences of the EC deadlock on Macedonia's "fragile ethnic mix." He said a solution would now have to come from the UN, where EC members could individually approve recognition.
Without publicly accusing Greece of misconduct, EC ministers also called for reinforcement of the embargo on trade with Serbia along Greece's northern border, and for quick delivery of approved EC assistance to Macedonia. Some EC countries accuse Greece of slowing the aid flow.
Beyond the Macedonian question, the prospect of foreign military intervention in the Yugoslav conflict also divides the EC.
European analysts tend to agree that it was tough talk from the United States - a letter from President Bush to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in late December that threatened air strikes, arms deliveries to Muslim fighters, and establishment of a war-crimes tribunal - that forced Mr. Karadzic's last-minute turnabout Tuesday.
Yet only days after French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas raised the prospect of military action to open up Serbian prison camps, other European leaders began questioning any recourse to outside military intervention. Ellemann-Jensen has ruled out an international military option, and has said any such eventuality was not discussed by the ministers.
Aides to Mr. Dumas, who said Sunday that France was ready to act "if necessary on our own" to liberate detention camps, say the foreign minister's words referred only to action within the framework of the UN, but were "purposely ambiguous."
"He wanted to point out that there are UN texts that are not currently applied," one senior foreign ministry official said, referring to a Security Council resolution on detention camp access. "But it was also his way of showing how the same people who are always saying, `Let's go in there and do something,' then turn silent or even critical when action is suggested."