THE United Nations has been working hard this week to assure the world that it stands firmly behind NATO's demand that all heavy weapons around Sarajevo be pulled back or brought under UN control by Feb. 20.
Both in New York and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where any warring party not complying with the deadline faces possible NATO airstrikes, UN officials tried to squelch rumored disputes between the two groups on details of the plan.
Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, commander of UN forces in Bosnia, insisted that both organizations are ``playing from the same sheet of music.'' In New York UN spokesman Joseph Sills said, ``There is no difference between the goals being pursued by the UN and by NATO.'' In response to questions on details, Mr. Sills said that talks aimed at refining the definition of weapons ``control'' continue.
In the latest chapter in that saga, the US, working with the UN, has agreed to allow Bosnian Serbs to keep some heavy weapons inside the 13-mile exclusion zone, provided these are not loaded or aimed at Sarajevo.
``I think it's critically important for the two [organizations] to stay together,'' comments John Bolton, former assistant US secretary of state for international organizations. ``If there is division between them, any party to the conflict can use it to its own advantage.''
Perhaps the biggest boost so far for the NATO ultimatum was the strong endorsement by most of the 57 UN member nations whose representatives spoke at an unusual open meeting of the UN Security Council Feb. 14 and 15. The meeting, not geared to producing a plan of action, was requested by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Russian Federation.
Russia has close ties with the Serbs, dislikes the concept of airstrikes, and wants the Council to frame such decisions. But bringing the issue to the Council for a new vote, and possible Russian veto, would require the support of eight other nations. Russians have now said the NATO bid is close to their own long-time proposal to demilitarize Sarajevo. Still, Russia Ambassador to the UN Yuli Vorontsov says the NATO weapons demand must apply equally to Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs.
Most speakers said the NATO demand, while a step beyond the UN request for airstrike authorization to deter further attacks against civilians, was fully in accord with past Council resolutions. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright said no other Council action is needed.
Islamic friends of Bosnia's Muslim-led government were similarly vigorous in their support of the NATO move. Malaysian Ambassador to the UN Razali Ismail said NATO's readiness to use force should be extended to the five other Bosnian safe areas that the Council vowed last June to protect. Several Muslim diplomats also argued that the Council should lift the Yugoslav arms embargo to allow the Bosnians to defend themselves. Though the US favors such a lift, France and Britain remain opposed.
Most Council speakers said a peace settlement is the only and ultimate aim of all UN-NATO efforts in Bosnia. Several speakers suggested moving the Geneva talks to New York. Egypt's Ambassador to the UN Nabil Elaraby said the Council should directly oversee the talks so mediators cannot deviate from Council mandate.
Yet Yugoslav envoy Dragomir Djokic reminded the Council that many difficulties still lie ahead and that the new NATO threat could be one of them. ``Any attempt to carry out airstrikes ... will represent a direct involvement in the civil war on one side,'' he said.