THE Bosnian Serbs' defiant rejection of a United Nations-sponsored peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina is almost sure to prompt the world organization to impose stiffer economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro this week. Stronger measures could follow.
The UN Security Council resumes discussion today of an omnibus proposal that would both "commend" the UN peace plan and, unless the Serbs signed in 15 days, ban most trade that moves to or through Serbia and Montenegro, which together make up the new, smaller Yugoslavia. Yugoslav ships, trucks, aircraft, and financial assets outside the country also could be seized.
But the action has dimmed prospects for a diplomatic solution, precipitating a breakdown in a week-long cease-fire and prompting the Muslim-led Bosnian government to threaten a return to full-scale war unless the West forces the Serbs to sign the UN plan within "a reasonable time."
By rejecting the plan, which would divide Bosnia into 10 semi-independent ethnic-based provinces, the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb parliament declared the Serbs' intention to carve the former Yugoslav republic into three distinct parts. The Serbs, who account for one-third of the Bosnian population, now control more than 70 percent of the territory.
The Serbs also decided not to permit any further relief supplies to be delivered to the besieged Muslim town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, a move the UN Security Council condemned as "willful flouting" of Council resolutions and a violation of humanitarian law.
"We felt this particular incident could not go unchallenged," said Council President Jasheed Marker, ambassador to the UN from Pakistan. "The Council felt it was necessary to express its shock and horror in the strongest terms possible."
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who insisted after the weekend vote that the plan "endangered the survival of the Serb people," urged direct three-party talks. Unless substantial progress in the negotiations is made in three weeks, he warns, "we will go our own way."
Both Bosnia's Croats and Muslims, albeit reluctantly, support the 10-province plan devised by mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen. "I'm not sure the plan can survive," says Bosnian Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey.
Yet Yuliy Vorontsov, Russia's ambassador to the UN, says he still thinks it is possible that the Bosnian Serbs may accept the plan. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, speaking in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was attending the Clinton-Yeltsin summit, took a similarly optimistic public stance.
Many legal details in the UN draft measure are still under debate. The Russians, who have strong economic, religious, and ethnic ties with the Serbs, would prefer tougher enforcement of current sanctions rather than new ones.
The Council voted March 31 to enforce a ban on all flights over Bosnia that was imposed last October. NATO, in its first military operation in support of the UN, will lead the effort beginning in mid-April. In deference to Russian concerns, no strikes on Serb airfields or other military facilities will be allowed, and planes in the air violating the ban will be so notified and escorted out of the zone.
V. P. Gagnon Jr., a visiting scholar in Russian and Yugoslav politics at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California, says enforcement of the no-fly zone and steady rumors that the West might become militarily involved in the Bosnian conflict are effective pressure points against Bosnian Serbs. "I think the only thing we can do is to keep pushing them and make them take tactical steps back," he says.
Mr. Gagnon also says lifting the UN arms embargo that covers all of the former Yugoslavia would give Bosnia's Muslims the opportunity to balance the arms equation. The Muslims would be "an incredibly motivated fighting force," he says, since they would be fighting for their homes. But he doubts that the Security Council will lift the embargo.