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UN, NATO Test Resolve Over Threat of Airstrikes

DEADLINE IN BOSNIA. Washington's tough talk on bombing is not matched by UN leaders

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WITH the clock ticking toward Sunday's deadline for the withdrawal of Bosnian Serb artillery from around Sarajevo, United States officials will work hard this week to try to keep Serbs from interpreting NATO airstrike threats as yet more empty bluster.

Over the weekend, Clinton administration spokesmen warned that NATO will accept nothing less than full and complete control of the heavy weapons that have pounded Sarajevo for years.

``All the forces are coming together to make sure that particular ultimatum stays in place,'' said US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright on a television talk show.

In the face of an uncertain Serb response, some US experts continued to warn that the US and its NATO allies need to think through their response beyond a first-round spasm of bombing.

If Serbs attack UN peacekeepers or widen infantry attacks in response to airstrikes, NATO must be ``psychologically prepared'' to intensify its use of force, warned Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia. That would likely mean a second step of bombing targets outside of artillery sites surrounding Sarajevo.

If NATO is not willing to attack a wider set of targets, then it is ``really not prepared to take the first step,'' Senator Nunn said.

New US Defense Secretary William Perry has said that the US, for its part, is studying this possibility. With precision-strike F-15E aircraft added to the 160 to 200 planes in the region, NATO's power has been bolstered for relatively heavy-duty attacks.

NATO equipment in the region is now capable of pinpointing the origin of fired shells within seconds, Mr. Perry said. Aircraft can pounce on the target within minutes.

Still, the tough talk of airstrikes coming from the US has not been entirely matched by UN forces in the region. Creating some confusion over split aims, UN peacekeepers in Sarajevo have said that the Serbs may not need to hand over their artillery tubes to UN control.

Simple monitoring with ground-based artillery-tracking radar might be enough to consider the Serb guns sequestered, suggested some UN forces. ``The 10-day ultimatum is a NATO ultimatum; it is not our ultimatum,'' said Lt. Col. Bill Aikman, a UN Protection Force spokesman in Sarajevo.

The UN's position on the issue is important, since UN officials say the responsibility for actually calling in airstrikes is theirs.

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