THE worst attack on civilians in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in the 22-month siege on the city brings renewed calls for outside intervention, but little relief to citizens trapped there.
The Muslim-led Bosnian government accused Bosnian Serb forces of firing the solitary 120 mm mortar round that exploded on Saturday amid crowds of shoppers in the Bosnian capital's central market.
At least 66 people died and almost 200 people were injured.
Radovan Karadzic, the self-styled president of the self-declared Bosnian Serb state, vigorously denied responsibility.
As with previous atrocities against civilians, he claimed the latest was perpetrated by the Bosnian government to stoke the world's sympathy in advance of the next round of internationally brokered peace talks in Geneva, which are scheduled for Feb. 10.
Many governments and analysts dismissed Mr. Karadzic's contentions despite the inconclusiveness of a preliminary United Nations ballistics investigation.
Observers noted that despite the Bosnian Serbs' denials, UN experts determined that Serbs had fired a mortar round on Friday that killed 10 people and wounded 18 others waiting for aid in a Sarajevo suburb.
Bosnian government officials and ordinary citizens also held Western powers partly to blame for the latest outrage, with Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic accusing them of sitting idly by in the face of ``slow-motion genocide.''
Bosnian officials demanded the UN either implement its unfulfilled resolution designating the city a ``safe haven'' under UN protection or lift the UN arms embargo so that the Bosnian Army could counter the siege.
Western governments react
Despite the greatest pressure they have yet been under to put their money where their UN resolutions are, Western governments again showed the lack of cohesion and decisiveness that have been the hallmarks of their approach to the Yugoslav crisis.
France called anew on NATO to act on its long-lingering threat to launch airstrikes against Bosnian Serb artillery positions.
Belgium Foreign Minister Willy Claes said that the Bosnian Serbs ``have gone too far,'' while Italy called for a concrete response to the ``new show of barbarity.''
President Clinton called an emergency meeting early yesterday with senior advisers to consider a US response, which could include airstrikes, according to US Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. William Perry, the new US defense secretary, reminded reporters in Munich, Germany, that President Clinton pledged not to allow the Bosnian Serbs to ``strangle'' Sarajevo. ``If we cannot prevent that from continuing forward, we will definitely consider stronger action, including airstrikes.''
His comments, which US officials reportedly played down later, are bound to ring hollow to Sarajevo's 380,000 residents, who have been bombarded, sniped at, and starved for almost two years.
Some observers saw Clinton's order for US military transport planes to evacuate the wounded from Sarajevo yesterday as compensation for an eventual decision against airstrikes.
Britain seemed entrenched in its opposition to airstrikes. British Defense Secretary Malcomb Rifkind, who began a two-day visit to Bosnia yesterday, reiterated London's contention that airstrikes would not ``solve the war in Bosnia'' and that only a political settlement would work.
Airstrike advocates contend that the West must act to restore its credibility and refuse to continue tolerating flagrant attacks on UN troops protecting aid convoys distributing relief to hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The price of a Western failure in Bosnia, these advocates argue, will be an escalation of ethnic conflicts elsewhere in central and eastern Europe and the already seething former republics of the former Soviet Union.
Opponents claim that NATO airstrikes would provoke Serbian reprisals against the 28,000-strong UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), which is deployed both in Bosnia and neighboring Croatia, forcing an end to UN relief operations.
They also argue that airstrikes would eliminate all hope for the peace process, which has concentrated on a plan to divide Bosnia into Serb, Croat, and Muslim ``ministates.''
The most outspoken opponent remains European Union (EU) peace mediator Lord David Owen.
Speaking to Britain's Sky News, Lord Owen said airstrikes would ``intensify the war and make a negotiated settlement very much harder because we would be seen as partisan, we would be combatants. The problem the UN has is that they have to remain impartial.''
Owen has been supported by some EU governments in contending that the US must play a greater role in promoting the partition plan. Washington refuses to endorse the proposal or pressure the Bosnian government into dropping its objections to the plan.
Critics also claim that even if it was signed by the factions, the plan would not end hostilities, with the three ministates doomed to constant warfare.
Croatia in Bosnia
Worldwide outrage over the Sarajevo attack diverted attention from another new dilemma on which the international community has failed to demonstrate cohesion: what to do about the presence of regular Croatian Army troops inside Bosnia.
UNPROFOR says that up to 5,000 Croatian Army soldiers are fighting in support of the Croatian Defense Council, the Zagreb-backed militia seeking to carve out a self-declared Bosnian Croat state. US intelligence estimates put the number of regular Croatian troops at between 5,000 and 10,000.
Croatia says its forces are deployed only on the Bosnia-Croatia frontier with the agreement of the Sarajevo government.
The UN Security Council last week called on Zagreb to remove its troops within two weeks or face unspecified measures. This is where Western differences have emerged.
Some countries are calling for the imposition on Croatia of the same UN economic sanctions that were slapped on Serbia and Montenegro in May 1992 for backing the Bosnian Serbs' ``ethnic cleansing'' conquests.
Others argue against sanctions, saying they have failed to halt Belgrade's drive to create a ``Greater Serbia'' through the annexation of territory captured by the Bosnian Serbs and their ethnic brethren in Croatia.
Opponents also say that sanctions have actually strengthened President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, by allowing him to blame his republic's dire economic crisis on the sanctions and not the billions of dollars his regime has poured into its ``Greater Serbia'' project.
In addition, opponents say, Croatia could retaliate for sanctions by expelling the tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees it is hosting and demanding a withdrawal of UNPROFOR and UN relief agencies, all of which are based in Zagreb.