Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Croatia Slips into Bosnian War UN Officials Say the Croatian Serb Bombings May Have Been `Staged' to Draw Croatia and Serbia into the Conflict

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Croatia Slips into Bosnian War UN Officials Say the Croatian Serb Bombings May Have Been `Staged' to Draw Croatia and Serbia into the Conflict

Article excerpt

THE conflict in former Yugoslavia has threatened to escalate to new heights as military tensions have increased between the West and ethnic Serbs, this time in Croatia.

UN approval of NATO airstrikes on the Serb-controlled Krajina region of Croatia came Saturday after Croatia's Serbs attacked the Muslim-held town of Bihac in Bosnia-Herzegovina by air.

The town is a United Nations "safe area," one of six Muslim-dominated enclaves in Bosnia designated by the UN to protect civilians from Bosnian Serb forces.

In the surrounding region, also known as Bihac, Muslim-led Bosnian troops are battling to repulse Bosnian Serb forces backed by Croatian Serbs.

Croatian Serbs vowed to respond with "military means" to NATO airstrikes and implied that they would attack both targets in Croatia and UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) peacekeeping troops deployed on truce lines in the former Yugoslav republic.

Rebel Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic warned the UN that NATO attacks would constitute "fresh Croatian aggression and UN siding with Croatia."

The warning led some UN officials to believe that Mr. Martic and his Bosnian Serb allies had deliberately staged the air attacks on Bihac in order to reignite fighting in Croatia that was stilled by a shaky March 28 cease-fire.

Escalating the war, the officials say, would be the most effective way to kill the "contact group's" peace plan for Bosnia, which was rejected by the Bosnian Serbs.

The contact group consists of the US, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany.

Drawing Croatia back into battle would also halt international efforts to broker economic and political accords to restore Zagreb's control over the third of its territory the rebel Serbs captured and declared as their own independent state in 1991.

On Saturday, Croatian Serbs rejected an agreement on reopening utility and road links between their territories and the rest of Croatia. Zagreb had agreed to sign the accord.

Finally, an escalation in the war could force Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic to reverse his backing of the international peace efforts and restore the military and political support he withdrew from his estranged Bosnian Serb proxies.

"Milosevic would be put in a very uncomfortable position," a UN official says.

Mr. Milosevic won an easing of UN sanctions last month by allegedly cutting off strategic supplies to the Bosnian Serbs. The contact group is now considering a plan under which it would further lift the sanctions if Milosevic recognizes the international borders of Bosnia and Croatia.

That would put an end to the goal of the Bosnian Serbs and their rebel Croatian kin of uniting their territories with Serbia and Montenegro in a "Greater Serbia."

The UN Security Council voted 15 to 0 in New York on Saturday to allow NATO airstrikes in Croatia's Serb-held Krajina region. …

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