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Safe Havens - a Minimum

SECRETARY of State Warren Christopher is in Europe this week to work out a united front with NATO allies on what has become a disheveled Bosnia policy.

The West's retreat from even limited intervention in Bosnia has reduced the amount of media coverage on the issue and also has contributed to increased anarchy there. In April, President Clinton called Bosnia the world's "No. 1" problem. But by last week Secretary Christopher said the US has "no vital interest" in Bosnia.

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Regardless, conditions in the country worsen as all sides react to the West's decision. The six UN "safe areas" contain a million civilians, all under siege by Serb forces. "Ethnic cleansing" has become the status quo. The situation is so bad in Gorazde that the UN will not send in monitors to observe the fighting. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said Wednesday he is preparing to take Sarajevo by force. This week Bosnian forces, with no UN relief from a 20-day Croatian "ethnic cleaning" campaign in central Bosnia, drove away Croat forces in Travnik.

A quick review of the situation sheds light on the allies' difficulties:

From February through April the international community waited for the US to decide on a course of action. The US, meanwhile, said it would wait for a Bosnian Serb decision on a UN peace plan. The Serbs decided this meant the US would not intervene. In May they rejected the Vance-Owen plan and said they would do as they pleased. This put US talk of force to the test. After consulting Europe on a plan to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnians and launch air strikes on Serb artillery, Mr. Clinton pulled bac k and said he would intervene only as part of a multilateral effort.

That decision in early May put the Bosnia ball in no one's court, where it remains. It is now clear the Europeans cannot agree on an effective Bosnia approach. Few basics can be agreed on other than that the Bosnia problem must be contained, which is why Christopher announced plans to send troops to Macedonia. A containment policy leaves the genocide in Bosnia untouched. The Vance-Owen plan is a starting point for talks, but it has lost credibility. Enforcing it would also require military action against


Two short-term approaches:

* First, protect the safe havens. The US will provide air support. Safe areas may save lives but are unsatisfactory in the long run because they create imprisoning "ethnic ghettoes."

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* Second, get UN agreement for sanctions on Croatia if Croat forces in Bosnia continue to attack Muslims. Zagreb is supporting and inciting Croats in Bosnia, just as Belgrade is helping Serbs there. If Croats continue to "cleanse" Bosnia, Croatia deserves sanctions just as Serbia does.

The crisis in Bosnia reveals problems there and in the West deeper than anything current diplomacy is addressing. But limited measures may keep matters moving ahead.

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