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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Urges Air Strikes in Bosnia

BRUSSELS -- The European Union backed the use of air strikes to relieve besieged Sarajevo on Monday, following a weekend mortar attack which killed 68 people and brought the West to the brink of military intervention in Bosnia.

The United States, expected to contribute much of the air power used in any strikes against Bosnian Serb artillery around the city, held talks with its NATO allies in Brussels.

But Russia, a key U.N. member with traditional links to the Serbs, signaled strong opposition to Western attacks, raising the prospect that they could be blocked at the United Nations.

"If contrary to the U.N. Security Council's decisions, NATO does something like that, it will cast a very dark shadow on our relationship," said Russia's special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, Vitaly Churkin.

NATO and the United Nations have repeatedly threatened such attacks, which would mark the first military action for the Western alliance since it was founded in 1949.

"The aim should be to bring about the immediate lifting of the siege of Sarajevo using all the means necessary, including the use of air power," said a statement issued by foreign ministers of the 12-member European Union in Brussels.

The EU, overcoming earlier differences over whether or not NATO planes already patrolling over Bosnia should be ordered to strike, said it was revolted by the "renewed brutal shelling of civilians in Sarajevo."

It called for the city to be placed under U.N. authority.

The statement represented a compromise between EU members who had been urging varied responses to the attack.

Most Western nations have blamed the Bosnian Serbs, although the Serbs deny it. The United Nations says it is not sure who fired the 120-mm mortar bomb which caused the carnage.

Britain took a more cautious line at the EU meeting, insisting that air strikes must be linked to clear objectives that could end the conflict -- something the statement appeared to endorse.

Officials in London indicated later Monday that the British position was hardening.

While Prime Minister John Major still had reservations about using force, a senior government official said he believed NATO and the U.N. should take "immediate and effective action." Greece, the only Balkan state in the EU, had opposed use of force but later agreed to the statement, although ministers stressed the need for a negotiated peace and continued U.N. relief aid.

They were briefed by peace mediator Lord Owen, who said earlier on Monday the Bosnian Serbs had agreed to negotiate a peace deal for Sarajevo separate from an overall settlement to end Bosnia's 22-month-old war.

The future of Sarajevo is expected to take center stage at the next round of peace talks in Geneva later this week.

Owen welcomed the statement and said it was vital to demilitarize Sarajevo.

"I believe it is the only way that we will stop these tragedies," he said.

NATO ambassadors met Monday following a call by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for the alliance to authorize possible air strikes against artillery around Sarajevo.

Alliance diplomats said the United States favored action, but only in coordination with European allies.

The United States, which has proposed air strikes in the past but has no troops with U.N. forces in Bosnia, has often been at odds with Europe over how to deal with the war.

U.S. President Bill Clinton's top foreign policy advisers scheduled a meeting at the White House and another NATO meeting is likely Tuesday or Wednesday to give a final response to the United Nations.

Canada, as well as Britain, has been reluctant to use force because it is worried that its troops serving with U.N. forces in Bosnia would become targets for retaliation.

But Turkey, which has wanted stronger international action to help Bosnia's Moslems, called again for air strikes.

NATO threatened last August to bomb artillery around Sarajevo and repeated the threat at a summit last month. U.S., French, British and other warplanes are patrolling over Bosnia from bases in Italy.

Alliance diplomats said a refusal to accept the latest U.N. request would mean further loss of credibility for the West and Bosnia's U.N. ambassador, Muhamed Sacirbey, said Monday he now expects NATO to keep its word.