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EC Takes a Firm Step on Bosnia

Under pressure from Germany, leaders make verbal commitment of `men and money'

JARRED by the dangerous precedent the Bosnian conflict presents for an unstable Europe, European Community (EC) leaders on June 22 shifted toward a more active engagement in the preservation of the fractured Balkan state.

Acting under the pressure of German calls for a lifting of the United Nations arms embargo on Bosnia-Herzegovina, EC leaders committed themselves to providing "men and money" for the protection of six UN-designated Muslim "safe havens."

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In what aides called a "nearly angry" presentation, French President Francois Mitterrand inched toward the German position. Mr. Mitterrand insisted that lifting the arms ban would be "an act of despair." But, adding that "the situation on the ground" called for a reassessment, he called on EC countries to either come forward now in an international effort to protect the havens or lift the arms embargo, end the international humanitarian effort, and let Muslims defend themselves.

Mr. Kohl's veering from the majority of his EC colleagues reflected recent German positions, but surprised EC countries by its timing and intensity. It followed an empassioned plea here earlier in the day from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic for the EC to lift the arms ban he said resulted in genocide and the forced capitulation of an internationally recognized state. Kohl also made his case after receiving a letter from President Clinton calling the end of the arms ban the only viable option left fo r Bosnia.

A question mark still hangs over the EC commitment to joining in a safe-haven protection plan. Despite the verbal commitment, discussion among European leaders showed no new commitments of soldiers. France and Spain said their troops already involved in the Bosnian humanitarian effort could be reassigned to the new task.

Kohl's statement demonstrated a growing German willingness to stand separate from its EC partners. It follows another shocker last week, when Germany entered a bilateral trade agreement with the United States on telecommunications contracts. That accord flew in the face of the "Community preference" principles Mitterrand has been pushing as a means for the EC to pull out of economic recession. (British view, Page 20.)

Germany's position among its European partners remains delicate because it has insisted that both its Constitution and the history of Nazi involvement in the former Yugoslavia prevent it from taking an on-the-ground role in the Balkans. Some observers see Kohl's intervention, coming as it did after Mr. Izetbegovic's visit, as a sign of particular German sensitivities to charges of genocide in Europe.

Some EC officials in private acknowledge the legitimacy of the Bosnian leader's fears, given past experience. Saying some European leaders want first to cover EC failure in the Bosnian conflict, one senior EC official qualified as "absolute rubbish" a statement by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe that new Serb-Croat proposals for partitioning Bosnia contained the essence of an earlier EC-brokered peace plan.

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