FRICTIONS have sharpened between the United States and its partners in the five-nation ``contact group'' over dealing with the Bosnian Serb rejection of their peace plan on Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The heightened tensions were evidenced by British warnings that trans-Atlantic relations will be seriously damaged if President Clinton acts on his pledge to exempt Sarajevo from a United Nations arms embargo unless the Bosnian Serbs accept the peace plan by Oct. 15.
Speaking to reporters at a European Union (EU) foreign ministers meeting on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom during the weekend, British officials repeated that British troops of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia would be withdrawn if the embargo is lifted.
While acknowledging that such a move could provoke massive international criticism as Bosnia heads into a third winter of war, the officials said London was adamant in its decision.
As an alternative to the US plan to end the arms embargo on Sarajevo, Britain and France are backing a Russian proposal to deploy international monitors to rump Yugoslavia's border to verify Serbia's blockade against the Bosnian Serbs.
Bihac and Mostar shelled
Amid the new wrangling, the Bosnian Serbs persisted in defying the international community by shelling on Saturday the northeastern Muslim-held town of Bihac, a UN safe area, causing civilian casualties and drawing a UN threat of NATO airstrikes.
A UN spokesman said Bihac was quiet yesterday. There was no word on whether Serb rebels from Croatia were pressing a cross-border incursion launched Thursday north of Bihac.
But an antitank shell struck the headquarters of the EU administration in the divided Bosnian city of Mostar yesterday, an EU spokesman said. The projectile was fired from the Croat-controlled side of Mostar and smashed into the building that houses EU administrator Hans Koschnick. He was not there at the time, and no one was hurt, the EU spokesman told Reuters.
It was the first such incident since the EU took control of rebuilding Mostar in July.
With President Clinton's Oct. 15 deadline rapidly approaching, contact group members Britian, France, and Russia have been stepping up pressure on Washington not to end the arms embargo against Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation.
They worry that ending the embargo could fuel the 29-month-old conflict. Following Britain's lead, France, Russia, and other UNPROFOR contributors say they will withdraw their troops if the embargo is ended.
Clinton has said that if the UN Security Council refuses to lift the embargo, the US will no longer help enforce it. Western diplomats believe Washington could also begin providing heavy weapons to Sarajevo.
In unveiling its peace plan in July, the contact group said it would take punitive steps if it was spurned by the Bosnian Serbs, including tightening UN sanctions imposed in 1992 on their patron, the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro.
The group also said that as a last resort, it would exempt Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation from the UN arms embargo imposed on the six former Yugoslav republics in 1991.
To avoid tighter sanctions, President Slobdan Milosevic of Serbia embraced the contact group plan and said he was shutting off strategic supplies, including fuel, to the Bosnian Serbs.
Sanctions to be eased
In return for Mr. Milosevic's acceptance of the monitors, the UN Security Council would relax sanctions against Belgrade by lifting bans on international air traffic and sports and cultural ties.
Western diplomats told the Monitor that an accord with Milosevic is being finalized and that he is expected to announce his acceptance after the deal is authorized by a UN Security Council resolution, possibly by the end of the week.
``It's just a question of modalities,'' said one source. ``We're very optimistic that within a very short time, we will have monitors on the border.''
About 130 monitors from Sweden, Norway, and Finland would be posted at major border crossings and occasionally patrol the 200-mile frontier, the sources said. But they would not be allowed to search trucks nor have the power to seize cargoes.
``It's a joke. It's like having 100 police officers to control New York City,'' complained Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic.
Mr. Ganic claimed in a Monitor interview that the Bosnian government ``has evidence that things are still coming through the border. We are about five miles from certain areas of the border. We see military trucks crossing over.''
Independent confirmation of his claim was not available.
Diplomatic sources say Washington has been reluctant in supporting the plan for several reasons, including doubts that the deployment of border monitors and Milosevic's blockade will shake the Bosnian Serb leadership out of its intransigence.
Given such doubts, relaxing the UN sanctions on Milosevic would be granting a political windfall to the man held most responsible for Europe's worst carnage since World War II.
To assuage Washington, the UN Security Council is expected to approve concurrently with the border monitoring plan a second resolution tightening economic sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs, the diplomatic sources say.