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Unacceptable Options


The Bosnian Serb tactic is clear enough. The assembly that refused to "ratify" the peace plan referred it to a referendum May 15 and 16 in which only Bosnian Serbs will vote. The West is supposed to withhold reaction. Meanwhile, Serbs assault Zepa, the last Muslim-held town in eastern Bosnia. Serbs blow up three mosques in Banja Luka, two of them 16th century gems. Muslims flee and vanish. Greater Serbia becomes more of a fact.

Reeling under economic sanctions, desperate to have signed on to the Vance-Owen peace plan if not to abide by it, the Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro dissociates itself from Bosnian Serb policy. The Serb political boss, Slobodan Milosevic, worries that the Bosnian Serb extremist leader, Radovan Karadzic, has gotten him into international trouble. Serbian and Yugoslav authorities solemnly intone that they have cut the supplies, with humanitarian exceptions, to their Bosnian kin. This does not halt the atrocities, but it is a plea to lift sanctions from Yugoslavia.

For President Clinton, the anguish is great. Serb aggressors have thumbed their noses at him. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has failed to enlist European support for quick, firm action. When President Bush drew a line in the sands of Kuwait, everyone understood. President Clinton's line in the mountains of Bosnia has been trampled over with impunity.

Gradually, world sympathy is building toward some kind of action. But at a time scale that will allow the Muslim presence in Bosnia to be eradicated and the province divided between aggressor Serbia and scavenger Croatia. That would allow the same set of unacceptable options to be faced with respect to ethnic cleansing of Albanians from Kosovo, which is bound to follow.

The economic sanctions on Yugoslavia must be maintained and policed. The Serbian population in Serbia may yet rise up and tell its masters that enough is enough. The supposed Serbian-Yugoslav embargo on Bosnian Serbs must not be accepted as fact without evidence of its enforcement. U.S. diplomacy should concentrate on European -- and especially Russian -- approval for lifting the U.N. embargo on arms to the largely Muslim government of Bosnia. Bombing should be considered. Doing nothing is the least acceptable option.

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