THE United Nations' decision to tighten sanctions against rump Yugoslavia appears to have strengthened the resolve of Belgrade and its Bosnian Serb proxies to reject a critical portion of the peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Even the plan's authors, Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen, have all but conceded the point and joined calls for stiffer measures intended to force the Serbs to reconsider. The Serbs reject a map that would divide Bosnia into 10 largely autonomous, ethnic-based provinces.
Lord Owen was expected to convey that message April 21 in Belgrade to communist President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the overlord of the year-old Bosnian Serb drive to carve a self-declared state out of Bosnia. (Russian Cossacks fight alongside Serbs, Page 6.)
But many analysts believe that Serbia will actually welcome the new sanctions when they go into effect on April 26, along with whatever additional international measures that may follow. Such actions, these sources say, reinforce Mr. Milosevic's grip on power by strengthening his regime's assertions that the Serbs are alone in a world bent on their annihilation.
"We have to unite in the face of this outside threat," declared Yugoslav Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic. The state has hammered that theme relentlessly since the April 18 UN decision.
The sanctions are designed "to put pressure on the Serbian people so they will capitulate to the `new world order,' " asserted Belgrade television, which blamed the entire crisis on "the anti-Serbian foreign press."
"This war will now become a holy war for the unity of the Serbs," says Milos Vasic of the independent Belgrade magazine, Vreme. "The best service to Milosevic right now would be airstrikes against Serbian military targets in Bosnia. That would ... put him in a position of the defending father of the nation."
Milosevic "would have new excuses to crack down on the opposition here and go for a total crusade of the Serbs against the rest of the world," Mr. Vasic says.
Indeed, the UN vote has already provoked calls for a state of emergency that would stiffle all remaining voices of dissent in the rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro.
"The sanctions will ... only strengthen Milosevic by creating a siege mentality," says Gordana Susa, a political analyst with the independent daily Borba. "Over 50 percent of the people now approve of Milosevic's policy," she says, referring to the findings of a poll published in Borba last week. "We are heading for despotism."
Milosevic's need to ensure his unchallenged authority stems from the fact that the tightening of the original May 1992 sanctions, which included oil and trade embargoes, will push Serbia and Montenegro further into an economic freefall. About 1.8 million of the 3.2 million-strong workforce are unemployed, inflation is rising at a rate of 7 to 10 percent daily, the dinar is virtually worthless, banks have collapsed, and hunger is spreading.
Milosevic and his regime have not only avoided a social backlash so far, but turned the crisis to their advantage by relying on the national unity theme and their control of the police, the Army, and ultra-nationalist paramilitary gangs. The regime has also armed itself with the powers to direct what remains of Serbia's economic resources; the agriculture sector is strong, some factories operate, and Serbia still produces hydroelectricity and weapons.
That, and the international community's refusal to use military force, have allowed Serbia to divert massive amounts of financial aid, fuel, food and military supplies to the Bosnian Serb conquest of roughly 75 percent of Bosnia, which proceeded even as Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic professed to participate in the international search for peace.
Some analysts say that not even the threat of intervention can now convince Belgrade and its Bosnian Serb proxies to accept the Vance-Owen map.
"There is no turning back now," Ms. Susa said.
Mr. Karadzic warned that tighter sanctions could prompt the Bosnian Serbs to abandon the peace process altogether. "If the sanctions are implemented, or even before they are, our parliament may decide to withdraw from negotiations," he declared.
Another consequence of the new sanctions may be accelerated efforts by hard-line Serbs to create a "Greater Serbia" by unifying Serbia and Montenegro with the self-declared Serbian states in Bosnia and Croatia. Western diplomats say the Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb leaderships may meet in the near future to forge a union between their self-declared states in Bosnia and Croatia.
Momcilo Krajisnik, the chairman of the Bosnian Serb "parliament," has proposed that such an entity be called "New Serbia," while Vojislav Seselj, chief of the Serbian Radical Party, has suggested the name "West Serbia."