THE former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia quickly agreed yesterday to accept the deployment of about 300 US troops as part of a United Nations monitoring force.
The American ground troops would be the first to step foot in the Balkans, but officials acknowledged that the soldiers will face little risk. The US has been under pressure from Europeans to commit ground troops to peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia, a step that President Clinton has resisted.
The US troops will join some 700 Nordic soldiers stationed by the UN in Macedonia in order to prevent the conflict raging elsewhere in former Yugoslavia from spilling into Macedonia.
Secretary of State Warren Cristopher confirmed to NATO foreign ministers at a meeting in Athens yesterday that Washington was ready to go ahead with the deployment. The US military currently maintains a medical unit in Croatia and helps enforce a "no fly" zone over Bosnia.
In addition, NATO announced yesterday that it was ready to offer air power to defend UN troops deployed in Muslim "safe havens" in Bosnia and ordered its military authorities to complete the planning for the operation.
But a statement issued by NATO foreign ministers at a meeting in Athens glossed over the issue of whether the planes could also be used to defend civilians in the enclaves - an issue on which the US and its allies disagree. Croatia to Cut Bosnia Ties
A senior Zagreb official said Croatia may be forced to break diplomatic relations with its war-torn neighbor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, if Muslim-led Bosnian forces continue to attack Croats in Bosnia.
Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Seks told Croatian television late Wednesday that the government would review its treatment of 266,000 Muslim refugees as a result of a Bosnian Army offensive against Croats.
"We may be forced to break diplomatic relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina if Muslim units continue aggression against Croats," he said. "It is unthinkable that while we take care of their families here, their brothers, fathers, or husbands in Bosnia are committing crimes against our people."
Seks spoke after the Croatian government met in emergency session and declared Zagreb's right to "demand full protection of Bosnian Croats."
Bosnian Croat pleas to Zagreb for help have put President Franjo Tudjman under pressure to intervene despite threats of Western sanctions if Croatia becomes embroiled in Bosnia's three-sided civil war. IRA Hits English Oil Sites
The Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility yesterday for two explosions at oil and gas depots in northern England. Neither blast caused injuries.
The IRA has recently attacked oil installations and other so-called commercial targets throughout England, as part of its campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland.
Police said an explosion rocked an Esso oil refinery in North Shields shortly before midnight, but caused no fires.
The blast followed the fiery destruction early Wednesday of an 80-foot tower containing natural gas at a gas depot in Gateshead. Both industrial towns are on the River Tyne, about 250 miles north of London, and are about five miles apart.
In April, a bomb blast rocked the same Esso installation in North Shields that was hit Wednesday. The April blast caused minor damage and no injuries.
The IRA last struck in England with a 500-pound bomb in London's financial district April 24. That attack killed a newspaper photographer, wounded 45 others, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.