US, UN Actions on Bosnian Crisis Signal New Resolve to Deliver Aid US Airdrop Plan Gets More Backing, but Peace Talks Lose Momentum

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BASIC humanitarian rules must apply even during the fiercest civil wars. That insistent message from the world community is slowly making gains in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Relief efforts there, long criticized as too little, too late, and too tentative, will never be cited as a model. Yet a series of recent decisions made in Washington and here at the United Nations reflects growing world determination to get aid through to civilians in need even amid intense fighting and to ensure that atrocities committed in the name of war do not go unpunished.

These decisions include:

* President Clinton's plan, disclosed this week, to airdrop supplies to needy civilians in isolated parts of Bosnia. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali endorsed the initiative and said after discussions with Mr. Clinton at the White House Tuesday that the action would be coordinated with UN relief efforts and would operate under UN authority.

Numerous concerns have been raised about the risks of airdrop flights. But Gen. Ratko Mladic, commander of the Serb forces in Bosnia, warmed somewhat to the plan yesterday, saying he would not mind the airdrop as long as it fed both sides. UN peacekeeping officials in Sarajevo have suggested that observers from all three sides could be aboard the relief planes.

* The UN Security Council's plan, unanimously approved Monday, to establish a global tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia. A panel of experts set up by the Council in October has been gathering evidence. Mr. Boutros-Ghali has 60 days to make recommendations to the Council for the tribunal's shape and powers.

"This is a warning to those who perpetuate these horrendous crimes that they will be held accountable for all they do or plan to do," says Ahmed Snoussi, Morocco's ambassador to the UN and the current president of the Security Council. Yet Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, Muhamed Sacirbey, says: "We should not kid ourselves that war criminals are going to be deterred by ... establishment of a tribunal."

* Mr. Boutros-Ghali's firm reversal late last week of an earlier UN decision made to suspent most aid to Bosnia. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, who made the earlier decision, had argued that all sides in the conflict were exploiting the aid for their own political ends and that the risks of delivery had become too great. Aid convoys have been repeatedly blocked, delayed, and harassed.

"There are no ideal situations and ideal solutions in Yugoslavia," says Hans van den Broek, commissioner for external relations with the European Community, which supports the new US air relief plan. "You have to choose whether you continue to say to these people {cut off from food by their enemies}: `We can do nothing for you,' or `We'll make the utmost effort even though it entails certain risks.' "

Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, mediators of the peace talks on the former Yugoslavia, insist that the best and most effective way to help Bosnians is by reaching an overall peace agreement.

Yet the five-month-old Bosnian peace talks appear to have lost considerable momentum in recent days. …

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