Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Final OK for NATO Airstrikes on Bosnia Is Said to Be Imminent

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Final OK for NATO Airstrikes on Bosnia Is Said to Be Imminent

Article excerpt

THE final go-ahead for United Nations-backed airstrikes in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be ordered by Monday, Aug. 9, at the latest, according to highly placed defense sources in London and Brussels.

The decision is expected to be made at a meeting of the NATO council in the Belgian capital and will authorize United States, British, and French aircraft to carry out missions in Bosnian airspace.

At a 12-hour technical meeting in Brussels that began on Aug. 2 and ended early on Aug. 3, alliance officials approved a twin-track strategy, the sources say.

Under the first part of the strategy, allied aircraft will be authorized to carry out sorties aimed at defending UN ground forces if the forces come under attack from Serb or other units.

In addition, allied aircraft may be asked to create, by aerial bombing and air-to-ground rocket attacks, a cordon sanitaire, or buffer zone, around the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. This would be aimed at breaking the Bosian Serb siege, allowing aid convoys to pass through, and keeping the zone clear of hostile forces.

The cordon sanitaire option remains controversial. US officials, alarmed by the occupation by Serb forces of high ground around the city, advocate the plan. But Britain and France, which have peacekeeping troops on the ground, continue to insist that the second track of the strategy be approved by the UN Security Council, where they both have veto power.

Canadian officials at the Aug. 2 meeting were most nervous at the prospect of full-scale airstrikes, but backed the majority, an alliance diplomat says.

The likelihood of early air operations over Bosnia was heavily underscored Aug. 3 when Malcolm Rifkind, the British defense secretary, landed by helicopter aboard the British aircraft carrier Invincible in the Adriatic and told Royal Air Force Sear Harrier pilots to prepare for action.

His remarks coincided with a fresh warning to Bosnian Serbs by Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary, that unless they stopped "strangling Sarajevo" and "sabotaging the peace talks in Geneva," NATO airstrikes would be ordered.

British officials say Mr. Hurd's comments were intended to strengthen the influence of Lord David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, the peace mediators at the Geneva talks. …

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