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A New Balkan Game

WHILE the world has rightly focused on Bosnia and its many tragedies, the offensive launched by Croatia this week against Serbs along the Adriatic - in violation of the United Nations agreement signed by both parties - serves to reveal again the deeper dimensions of the Balkan crisis. This ought to be instructive for the new Clinton team, which is now in the unenviable position of having to quickly form a serious strategy for a complicated problem.

The Croats say they only want to restore a crucial bridge blown up by the Serbs a year ago that economically and geographically cut their country in two - and that by achieving this they will stop. That is probably true. But this first attack since the UN occupation last year reveals how artificial the peace in Croatia really is.

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The UN earlier stated it would stop aggression by either side. But Croats rolled right past UN soldiers - a warning about what may happen if Croats decide to take the land inside their borders back. If that happens, Serbs could quickly face a multiple-front war - since Muslims in east Bosnia are stronger and beginning to fight well. A Serb military crisis may tempt Slobodan Milosevic to start a war in either Kosovo or Macedonia. That could cause an atomic reaction - if Turkey, Greece, Albania, and Bulgar ia get involved. In some ways, it is now the Clinton administration's move. All sides - Croats, Muslims, Serbs - are waiting to find out the American position. For months the Bush White House and Europe hid behind the Geneva talks and did nothing while hours away a barbarous genocide raged. But Geneva now seems transparently and unacceptably a way for Croats and Serbs to buy time.

Bill Clinton must act in a decisive way, backed by a comprehensive plan. Soon. At a minimum the arms embargo on Bosnia should be lifted and the no-fly zone enforced. Macedonia can be shored up by recognizing it. Progress on resettling Croatians must begin. Since action will change the Balkan dynamics, a tough new peace talk strategy must be devised.

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