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Bosnia's Nightmare

FOR two weeks the Yugoslav Army has aided and abetted Serb locals in Bosnia-Herzegovina as they carry out a campaign of terror. Serb paramilitary units have killed hundreds of Muslims and Croats in villages along the Drina River in the old Yugoslav republic. Unless something is done, more will be killed.

Since the European Community and the United States recognized Bosnia's sovereignty April 9, Bosnian Serb leaders have staged a shameful, illegal land grab. Backed solidly by the Serb government in Belgrade, these leaders aim to take 65 percent of Bosnia though representing 30 percent of the population. UN figures show 213,000 refugees.

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What's especially ugly about this Balkan bloodletting is the new propaganda campaign in Belgrade. Serb president Slobodan Milosevic is behind it, and he must be made accountable. Having taken his people to the brink of bankruptcy and shame in the civil war with Croatia, Mr. Milosevic is now literally and figuratively getting away with murder in Bosnia. Belgrade TV and newspapers say Muslims in Bosnia are attacking bare-handed Serb peasants - an out-and-out lie.

Rogue Serb units headed by the notorious "Arkan" (who says he will kill Western journalists that write about him) have done the attacking. The strategy is simple: Shoot a few men in each village and the rest clear out. The Army, with its planes, armor, and huge weapon stock, keeps resistance minor. Thus, few body bags come back to Belgrade, in contrast with high Serb casualties in Croatia. Protest is minimized. Bosnia is silently ripped apart.

The West is not sitting still, however. Local Serbs harassed in Croatia gave Milosevic a cover; but he has no excuse in Bosnia. On April 15 the Conference on Security and Cooperation gave Serbia until April 29 to reverse its Bosnian course or lose its CSCE seat. Serbia's "Yugoslav" seat at the UN must be reviewed.

Washington has taken the diplomatic lead for the first time since the civil war broke out last June. It registered vigorous protests in Belgrade. That is just the beginning - Serb protests of US bias notwithstanding. President Bush meets today with EC head Jacques Delors. They should outline a series of political and economic steps to isolate Serbia until it changes policy. Sanctions should begin now, and airlifts of aid to Sarajevo continue.

An aggressive isolating of Milosevic must be joined by an equally strong message to Belgrade that the conflict in Bosnia can be reversed. It is not too late - though matters are critical.

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