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Clinton Urges Stiffer Sanctions Against Serbia to Curb Warfare

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times


As he deliberated over more drastic steps, President Clinton Monday ordered a tightening of the economic sanctions against Serbia in hopes of forcing the Balkan state to halt its warfare in Bosnia.

The new steps implement a U.N. resolution, adopted Sunday, that calls for U.N. members to freeze Serbian assets abroad and move even further to cut off trade between Serbia and the outside world.

The measures are expected to do little to halt the Serbian military machine, but are likely to further damage an economy that already is suffering from hyperinflation, a 40 percent one-year decline in industrial production, high unemployment and shortages of key industrial goods and fuel, officials said.

Clinton said he would consult Congress this week on further steps to halt the fighting that already has left 135,000 missing or dead in the former Yugoslavia in the past year.

The president, who last week said he was giving serious consideration to air strikes and a lifting of an embargo that prohibits the sale of arms to Bosnia, said it was "clear that the United States and our allies need to move forward with a stronger policy." His policy would be announced "in the next several days," he said.

The U.N. resolution was put into effect after Serbian leadership in Bosnia refused to accept a U.N.-sponsored peace plan.

Specifically, Clinton's executive order freezes American business interests in Serbia and its allied state of Montenegro, prohibits U.S. ships from entering Serbian territorial waters, and permits U.S. forces to board any truck or vessel believed to be violating U.N. trade sanctions. It takes other steps to close loopholes in the economic sanctions ordered last May.

The resolution is also designed to halt transshipment of goods through Serbia and Montenegro. In the past, shipments headed for other destinations often ended up in Serbian hands.

As part of the tougher sanctions, U.N. countries are stepping up their surveillance of both Adriatic ports and the Danube River, a principal trade route between the Balkans and the rest of Europe. The United States has given six unarmed river patrol boats to Bulgarian and Romanian officials to help their customs units monitor the river. U.S. customs officials are also training their counterparts for the work.

Despite the first round of sanctions, 55 Serbian-owned or -controlled ships have continued to bring goods to their country, officials said. The seagoing trade will now be monitored by U.S. and NATO warships and vessels of the other Western European countries. The United States has also provided 25 customs officials to give Serbia's neighbors advice on how to check compliance with the sanctions.

A senior U.S. official said the administration does not expect such sanctions necessarily to destroy the will of Serbian leaders to continue their fight. But "the impact of the new resolution would be to substantially raise the cost (of continuing warfare) above anything they have already paid, which is substantial," the official said.

The officials pointed to "an awful lot of cross talk going on in diplomatic channels" as one sign that the Serbians are concerned about the new sanctions and might take steps to prevent them. They said some Serbian citizens, fearing the tightened sanctions would further reduce every day necessities, have been making pilgrimages to border areas.

Other signs of the sanctions' impact include the shutdown of several Belgrade banks. These banks generate hard currency for the Serbian administration, and thus are important to its operations.

Officials said the sanctions are not likely to affect the Serbian army, because officials will divert fuel from civilian sources. The Serbs also continue to be amply armed because of a huge weapons stockpile left over from the Yugoslav army, they said.

For several reasons, however, some outside experts questioned whether the sanctions would produce the intended results. They pointed to the ineffectiveness of economic sanctions on Iraq and the Soviet Union, and wondered whether the sanctions might not simply stiffen the resolve of the Serbian public.

Serbia does not have an opposition leadership that is urging an end to the military intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So pressure from the rest of the world could simply deepen sentiments that Serbia has been victimized by bigger countries for most of the century.

"There's no automatic relationship between the tightening of sanctions and any change in the political outlook of a leadership or people," said Martin van Heuven, a senior consultant at RAND Corp. in Washington. "It might do that. But it could do the opposite."