AS Serb forces continue a military advance in northwest Bosnia, both the US and the UN are making last-ditch diplomatic efforts to end the fighting and broker a permanent division of this embattled nation.
United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali met with leaders of the Muslim-led government yesterday in Sarajevo, but with little to show. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic refused to meet him.
Bosnia's President Alija Izetbegovic told Mr. Boutros-Ghali that he would not agree to further concessions for a cease-fire.
Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher headed to Europe for a NATO meeting, offering a new initiative on Bosnia calling for indirect talks between Muslims and Serbs, followed by an international conference.
US Defense Secretary William Perry has suggested that the West might revise its peace plan to allow Bosnian Serbs to form a union with neighboring Serbia and Serb-held lands in Croatia.
Boutros-Ghali's trip was seen by observers as an effort to salvage the imperiled UN Protection Force mission in the former Yugoslavia.
``UNPROFOR ... is experiencing grave difficulties in carrying out its mission,'' spokesman Michael Williams admitted Tuesday in Zagreb. ``We have had extraordinary difficulties ... I think these are extremely critical days.''
But Mr. Williams said the UN was not considering pulling out of Bosnia. ``I don't think we're at the stage of ultimatum,'' he said.
Bosnian Serbs have ``detained'' more than 500 of the 24,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia. The $2 billion a year UN operation, which receives one-third of its funding from the US, has been brought to a standstill in many areas by the Serbs.
No more safety net
UN officials openly admit that they no longer can guarantee protection for the six safe areas - including Bihac - declared by the UN Security Council last May. Three limited NATO airstrikes failed to deter the Serbs last week, and the major powers - including the US - have said they will not send in ground troops.
UN workers in Zagreb described the situation as ``depressing.'' The list of UN humiliations has grown rapidly since NATO warplanes struck:
* Last Wednesday, three UN military observers were forced to stand on an airport runway in Banja Luka for eight hours as apparent shields against attack.
* A deserted building in a Canadian observation post was hit by a rocket this week. According to UN officials, the Bosnian Serb commander later explained that the shelling had been a generous act because his orders had been to shell the peacekeepers.
* Bosnian Serb officials have refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi, claiming he is pro-Muslim.
* Bosnian Muslim officials walked out of a meeting with UN military commander Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, bitterly criticizing him for not calling in massive NATO airstrikes to halt the Serb advance in Bihac.
* The UN even had ``great difficulty'' winning guarantees of safe passage from the Bosnian Serbs for Boutros-Ghali's flight to Sarajevo, UN officials said.
Fighting never stopped
Some observers have argued that the UN mission was doomed from the start because the UN launched its mission in the former Yugoslavia before a peace agreement had been signed. Most previous UN peacekeeping operations began after both sides had agreed to stop fighting.
``In Cambodia, Angola, [and other operations] the UN went in after there had already been some sort of political sentiment,'' UNPROFOR spokesman Williams said Tuesday. ``We've never had anything like that here, and in that sense, the international community has asked an enormous amount of UNPROFOR.''
A diplomatic official in Zagreb was more blunt. ``Bihac has forced the international community to confront the fact that there is no peace to keep,'' the diplomat said. ``So you're seeing distress, bordering on despair, at the UN. You're seeing a lot of finger-pointing and fault-finding.''
Observers say the UN's credibility has been shaky in Bosnia - and its mission has suffered as a result - since the international community failed to enforce the peace plan that ended fighting in Croatia in 1992.
The failure to enforce the agreement has come back to haunt the UN, according to Western diplomats. The plan called for the complete demilitarization of all parts of Croatia held by Serb rebels, but the areas were not demilitarized. Cross-border airplane and ground attacks launched by Serbs in Croatia have played a major role in the successful onslaught against the Bihac pocket.
Critics also complain that the UN has failed to punish Serbs for blocking aid convoys or shelling safe areas. Ignoring violations has gradually eroded its credibility, they say.