THE Balkan chess board is about to get more complicated.
Yesterday the United Nations undertook a more aggressive effort to evacuate wounded refugees from Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina besieged by Serbs, but quickly suspended the helicopter flights because shelling jeopardized the operation. Within the next two weeks, the UN is expected to go further in protecting the Bosnians by enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After several days of delays, the Security Council appeared set to approve a resolution that would give NATO warplanes, in coordination with the UN, the green light to patrol the Bosnian skies. The resolution has been delayed twice over last-minute changes added by the Russians regarding rules of engagement.
Although the NATO enforcers would be armed and capable of shooting down violators, the enforcement resolution is not expected to have any real impact on the fighting in Bosnia. Serbian air power has never really been a factor in the fighting.
"Most people have been killed by artillery, snipers, or starvation," says John Macartney, associate professor of international studies at American University and a retired Air Force pilot.
Instead, says Janusz Bugajski, director of East European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, "It is an important political signal." It is the first time the UN has sanctioned any form of military intervention aimed primarily at one side in the Bosnian war - the Serbs.
The UN action comes after a March 13 incident when some crop-dusters, believed to have flown from Serbia, dropped bombs on eastern Bosnian villages. Of the 482 recorded flights over Bosnian airspace, this was the first reported military use of the planes. Most of the flights have been to evacuate wounded, and move men and supplies.
According to a Western diplomatic source, the Serbs, however, are not the only side to use aircraft; Croatian planes are ferrying arms to Muslim areas. There are also reports that Iranian planes have also brought in arms. "Is it really in our interest to shoot down an Iranian plane?" one Western diplomat asks.
Increased commitment is also a factor. The Bosnian Serbs have anti-aircraft weapons capable of knocking NATO planes out of the sky. "If a NATO plane gets hit, does the commander have a mandate to go after the forces on the ground?" the diplomat asks.
In addition, there is the risk of losing the support of Russia, which has been making small changes to the enforcement resolution. Russian President Boris Yeltsin has indicated his support for efforts to find a negotiated settlement. But he is also under pressure at home to support the Serbs. "The worst thing we can do is leave the Russians out," says Mr. Bugajski of CSIS.
The effort to approve no-fly enforcement comes at a critical moment in the talks, co-chaired by European Community envoy Lord David Owen and UN envoy Cyrus Vance. The spokesman for the two mediators, Fred Eckhard, has indicated the talks may not continue in New York unless there is some progress.
Lord Owen and Mr. Vance are trying to get the Bosnian Croats, Serbs, and Muslims to agree to a map dividing Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous provinces, with multi-ethnic rule in Sarajevo. In addition, they are trying to negotiate an interim agreement on the governing of Bosnia during what is expected to be a long transition period back to stability.
Since the two sides arrived in New York last week, there have been no face-to-face meetings between Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic. In an interview with MonitoRadio Tuesday, Mr. Karadzic indicated his willingness to talk directly to the Muslims. He also said he would remain in New York in the hopes of achieving progress.
Mr. Izetbegovic has said he will not meet with the Serbs as long as the attacks continue in eastern Bosnia.
So far the Bosnian Croats are the only group to agree to the new map. But Bosnian Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey indicated Tuesday that he expected Izetbegovic to agree to the map in the next few days. "We are hopefully close to resolution," Mr. Sacirbey said.
If the Muslims accept the new boundaries, "all the pressure will be on the Serbs," Bugajski says. But Karadzic has consistently rejected the proposed map.
Under the current version of the Vance-Owen map, Serbs would get about 43 percent of the country. But because of their military strength, the Serbs now control about 70 percent of the country. They are hesitant to return the land they have won in battle.
According to Mr. Eckhard, a major sticking point in the talks over the interim government is the future of Sarajevo. The Muslims prefer an open, internationally supervised city. The Serbs would like to divide the capital. "Once they get into the fine print there will be many areas they disagree over," Bugajski warns.
Meanwhile, two UN peacekeepers were wounded when Serbs shelled a landing zone in Srebrenica during a risky evacuation mission by French helicopters, UN officials said.
Serb shelling jeopardized the mission despite assurances from Karadzic that his forces would permit a five-day air evacuation of the wounded and sick. More than 60,000 refugees have fled to Srebrenica from other towns.