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Serbs Warn NATO Bombs Endanger Peace Talks

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina

U.S.-led allied warplanes bombed more Bosnian Serb targets early Tuesday as the besieged separatists were joined by their Russian allies in warning that the air strikes endanger a fledgling Bosnian peace process.

The Muslim-led Bosnian government also was worried about the peace talks that began last week in Geneva, forced to defend them against a public that feels sold out.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, in a letter to presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, said that by launching 13 cruise missiles Sunday night from a U.S. Navy vessel, NATO had "declared war on the Serbs."

"It is clear that the most powerful military alliance on earth is openly taking the side of our enemies," Karadzic wrote. "The entire peace process could be wrecked."

Bosnian Serb television showed two houses purportedly destroyed by the Tomahawks, but no further evidence was offered of the numerous civilian casualties the Serbs claim.

Although U.S. and NATO officials denied that the use of the Tomahawks was an escalation in the 13-day-old air campaign, it clearly marked an elevation of the weaponry employed and an expansion of the geographic area of operations. Earlier, NATO had bombed primarily in eastern Bosnia and around Sarajevo.

Public buses started running again Monday in Sarajevo for the first time in five months, thanks to a new level of safety created by the air strikes. But Sarajevans were quickly reminded of the continuing danger: Snipers opened fire from a Serb-held suburb on a bus crowded with passengers. Eight people were wounded.

Efforts by Russian officials to pressure the Western alliance to end its bombing campaign gained momentum Monday. At the United Nations, Russia circulated a draft resolution among fellow Security Council members calling for the immediate suspension of NATO air strikes in Bosnia.

In Moscow, the Kremlin intensified warnings that NATO's use of force against the Serbs threatened to spread war beyond the Balkans and could compel Russia to abandon international security accords.

The peace talks, which produced an agreement in Geneva last week to halve Bosnia along roughly ethnic lines, are coming under a different kind of attack in Sarajevo, where government officials sought to defend the compromise accord before an angry public.

Writing in the daily newspaper Oslobodjenje, President Alija Izetbegovic said the agreement was a necessary, although painful, concession to end the war, adding that otherwise Bosnia will lose whatever international support it now has.

Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, in a news conference, said his government was compelled to accept as part of the agreement the formalization of the "Republika Srpska," the Bosnian Serb Republic created largely by the killing or expulsion of tens of thousands of Muslims.

From cafes to refugee camps, a sense of bitter betrayal is dominating the conversations of pro-government Bosnians who feel that the country they have been fighting to preserve during the last 41 months has been summarily sacrificed.

In defending the still-emerging Geneva plan, Silajdzic said he envisioned a transition period of up to 15 years before the Serb half of the new Bosnia-Herzegovina would be allowed full participation in a central government that will oversee both halves. It would take that long, he said, for democracy, human rights and legitimate leaders to be established. In the meantime, it would remain a "second-class government," he said.

Silajdzic's comments underscore serious questions over whether the new arrangement can possibly work, because the government's vision is so radically different from that of the Serbs, who believe they have gained international recognition as a state.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who chaired the Geneva talks and met with President Clinton and other officials in Washington on Monday, will resume his Balkans shuttle on Thursday, officials said. He is expected to meet with the five-nation Contact Group and then hold separate discussions with the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

On Monday, Silajdzic confirmed that the Bosnian government army had pushed ahead with an offensive in north-central Bosnia.