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U.S., Allies Preparing Plan To End Siege of Sarajevo

By Doyle McManus
Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration and its European allies are moving toward a decision to lift the siege of Sarajevo by demanding the removal of all artillery from the city and surrounding territory and enforcing the demand with military power, senior U.S. and European officials said Monday.

President Clinton's top foreign policy advisers have prepared a U.S. proposal for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that centers on an ultimatum to all forces in the Sarajevo area to give up their heavy weapons, including the Serb artillery that has pounded the city for months, killing hundreds of civilians.

The plan, which also includes options for air strikes and other military action to enforce the ultimatum, was presented to Clinton late Monday night in Shreveport, La., by Anthony Lake, his national security adviser, a White House official said.

If Clinton approves the plan, as his aides expect, the United States will present it at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday.

In another step toward military action, Britain -- which previously had argued against NATO air strikes -- said that it now is convinced that some use of force probably is necessary. "The balance of risk and benefit has changed," Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said. He said that the allies have moved "a step forward toward using force."

France and Germany also joined in support of air strikes or other action against the Serb guns. The European Union, which includes most of NATO's European members, declared that the alliance's goal should be "the immediate lifting of the siege of Sarajevo using all means necessary, including the use of air power."

However, Canada, another NATO member, said Monday that it is opposed to air strikes. So did Russia, which is a member of the U.N. Security Council, but not of NATO.

The U.S. proposal does not call for immediate retaliation against the Serbs for Saturday's attack -- an idea officials considered but rejected.

Instead, the Security Council would formally demand that the Muslim-led Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs both remove all "heavy weapons," including tanks and artillery, from Sarajevo and its surroundings, one official said. NATO would develop plans to remove or destroy any heavy weapons that remained past a deadline, he said.

"The idea is to end the siege and the main instrument of the siege has been the heavy weaponry," he said. "The main difficulty is figuring out how to remove the weapons in a way that is effective and remains effective."

The plan includes a proposal to provide U.N. forces in Sarajevo with advanced U.S. radar devices, which can pinpoint sources of artillery fire and direct air strikes or other counter-fire against the guns.

If those radar devices are provided, they apparently would be manned by European troops, not by Americans. "We have not changed our policy of not putting U.S. troops on the ground," one official said.

The immediate spur for the accelerated discussion of allied military action was Saturday's artillery attack against an outdoor market in Sarajevo that killed 68 civilians and injured 200. But officials said that the tragedy was merely the final step in a long escalation of Serb bombardments that have made a mockery of the Western powers' frequent warnings against attacks on Sarajevo.

Clinton, during a speech in Houston, decried the shelling of the marketplace as "an outrageous attack on innocent civilians."

"Our government is talking with our allies about what steps ought to be taken in response not only to this outrage, but to the possibility of future attacks on innocent civilians," he said.

The president urged the allies to be ready to enforce their warnings with action. "I don't think we should have any more empty threats," he said.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher told the news media that NATO would "decide on a course of action, on an overall strategy within the next few days." And Defense Secretary William J. Perry, at the Pentagon, said the United States would give NATO "a concrete set of proposals."

Perry noted that military planners believed bombing raids were often ineffective against artillery, but added: "We're trying to consider it in ways that minimize the problems and the limitations of air strikes."