OUTRAGED by a brutal Bosnian Serb strike on the Muslim-dominated town of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United Nations Security Council approved tighter sanctions on Serbia late Saturday night.
The Bosnian Serbs were given nine days - until April 26 - to sign the peace plan brokered by mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen before the expanded sanctions take effect.
But the vote on tighter sanctions, and a resolution the night before establishing Srebrenica as a safe haven, ultimately may not halt Serb advances on the ground.
After the first resolution, UN commanders in Sarajevo brokered a cease-fire that calls for the UN-monitored demilitarization of Bosnian government forces in Srebrenica and the evacuation of tens of thousands of refugees. About 150 Canadian troops headed for the town yesterday to oversee these operations. (Britain's Thatcher appeals for an end to embargo, Page 8.)
The sum effect of the weekend diplomatic actions may be that a massacre will be avoided, but the Bosnian Serbs nonetheless appeared positioned to gain control of the town.
Brushing aside an earlier pledge to Russia to delay until April 26 any vote on tighter sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro, the main suppliers of the Bosnian Serbs, the Council met at France's request in an emergency evening session Saturday to pass the sanctions measure. Both China and Russia, which has strong ethnic and religious ties with the Serbs, abstained.
The "safe area" resolution demands that all Bosnian Serb forces withdraw and allow an increase of UN peacekeeping troops there. In both resolutions the Council invoked chapter 7 of the UN charter, which authorizes the use of force when international security is threatened.
A major open debate on the Bosnian situation still is scheduled for today and tomorrow (April 19 and 20) in the Security Council chamber.
At times, members of the Security Council appear as frustrated by the lack of stronger tools at their disposal as they are with the apparent determination of Bosnian Serbs to defy world opinion and build their own version of a Greater Serbia. Council diplomats say they have felt constantly deceived by Bosnian Serb promises and assurances.
The Council has frequently deplored and condemned Serb actions. Yet its actions so far in the Bosnian conflict - economic sanctions, peacekeeper protection for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Bosnia - have had little practical effect in deterring Bosnian Serb advances.
In the last few days, the Council has focused its attention on efforts by Serb troops to capture Srebrenica. Serb strikes April 12 and 17, and continued Serb efforts to block delivery of relief supplies there, have made the city a kind of litmus test of Serb intentions in the eyes of the Council.
In the course of the Council vote to tighten sanctions on rump Yugoslavia, several diplomats observed that Bosnia's Serbs and their Belgrade suppliers still could choose cooperation over confrontation.
"Peaceful negotiation is and must be the way forward - that message needs to be driven home again and again," says Terence O'Brien, New Zealand's ambassador to the UN. Insisting that the "international community will no longer wait," Mr. Vance said he and Lord Owen "wholeheartedly" support the resolution and stronger additional measures if needed.
Russia's UN ambassador, Yuli Vorontsov, had argued earlier for a delay in the vote so the Russians would have time for more intensive diplomatic efforts to win Bosnian Serb support for the Vance-Owen plan. Before voting to abstain, he said that Russia was concerned that the accelerated vote on sanctions could have "negative consequences."
"The reason for this haste is still not clear to me," he told reporters afterwards. Ambassador Vorontsov dismisses as an unrelated coincidence the fact that the original delay in the vote would have set it for April 26, one day after the Russian referendum on President Boris Yeltsin's rule and economic reforms.
"Yeltsin just doesn't want to aggravate relations with [the Russian] parliament right now - he doesn't want to display any kind of initiative," comments Yuri Maltsev, an expert on Russia and former fellow at the US Institute of Peace who now teaches at Wisconsin's Carthage College.
Asked what further steps the Council might take if the latest moves do not succeed, Council President Jamsheed Marker, Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, mentioned a possible partial lift of the arms embargo to allow Bosnian Muslims to be supplied in self defense, UN seizure and control of heavy weapons, and taking action to cut Serb supply routes. No major power is yet willing to commit ground forces to try to stop the Bosnian conflict.