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EC Plans Full Commercial Embargo of Serbia


FRESH signs that Serbia may be heeding mounting international pressures against it will be watched by the European Community as it moves this week toward the adoption of broad economic sanctions against the Belgrade regime.

Facing stinging criticism for its inaction as fighting and humanitarian deprivation continue in the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the EC drew up plans on Tuesday for a full commercial embargo of Serbia. The embargo, which could include a suspension of commercial aircraft landing rights, an oil embargo, and a cutoff of export credits, still requires formal approval by EC foreign ministers, perhaps later this week.

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Yet with the EC looking increasingly serious about sanctions and the United Nations Security Council also moving toward the adoption of progressively forceful measures, Serbia began giving signals that it wants to avoid the punitive action. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Belgrade government Tuesday pledged to seek an end to the fighting in Bosnia and to support the reestablishment of humanitarian aid supply lines.

The Serbian government's pledge was received differently in various European capitals, however, pointing up the gulf that continues to divide EC governments concerning treatment of Serbia.

British and German officials tend to see the statement of cooperation as more of the kind of public relations campaign Serbia has employed in the past. The French and Greeks, on the other hand, favor a go-slow approach to sanctions to allow Serbian authorities time to act on their words.

That split was reflected in Tuesday's meeting of EC experts assembled to prepare eventual EC sanctions. One of the principal questions addressed, according to a representative of the EC's current Portuguese presidency, was whether the Community should adopt trade sanctions unilaterally now, or wait for coordinated UN action.

"The large majority was for unilateral action, but the fact is there was no consensus," the official said. "That leaves it a difficult political problem that only the ministers can negotiate and possibly decide."

EC foreign ministers do not meet in regular session until June 15. But other possibilities exist for an emergency meeting, in the margins of international meetings this week in Santiago, Chile, or next week in Oslo, Norway, the Portuguese official said.

British Prime Minister John Major called Tuesday for international sanctions against Serbia, only days after United States Secretary of State James Baker III said countries should "stop looking for reasons not to take action." Mr. Baker's scolding was not well-received in many European capitals, especially in Paris. Some French observers note that until recently the US was just as ambivalent about action against Serbia.

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The French government also did not appreciate the timing of Baker's remarks, which came the same week France formalized plans with Germany for development, beginning this summer, of what by 1995 is to be a 35,000-soldier-strong "Eurocorps." (NATO debate, Page 5.) Some analysts interpreted Baker's words as a veiled statement that Europe is unable to act effectively on its own and needs US tutelage.

Others have said Baker's words were not needed to point out the obvious: that even as France and Germany speak of developing common armed forces, their divergent interests, exemplified in the former Yugoslavia, will continue making joint action difficult.

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