With a series of votes on the Bosnia arms embargo, Congress is putting President Clinton on notice to step up U.S. efforts to resolve the ethnic warfare in the Balkans.
The Senate attached two amendments to the 1995 defense budget Thursday night, both of which seek Serbian acceptance of a peace agreement.The first urges Clinton increase pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to sign a peace accord by Oct. 15. The other says the United States will unilaterally defy an international arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia unless a peace agreement is reached by Nov. 15.
"The message this amendment sends to the Bosnian Serbs is that time is running out," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., co-author of the proposal to unilaterally lift the arms embargo. The objective, he said, "is to allow the Bosnians to defend themselves against aggression."
These were the latest in a series of actions this year by a Congress frustrated that the 1991 United Nations embargo, intended to quell violence in the region, has actually placed Bosnian Muslims at a disadvantage against the Serbs, who are seen as the aggressors.
None of the bills is about to go to Clinton for his signature and they could be altered again. But by September or October, a measure requiring him to lift the embargo could well be on his desk and, taken together, the actions indicate that patience on Capitol is running out.
A last-minute policy shift by Clinton and the combined efforts of Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine and Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, weren't enough to stop the proposal by Dole and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.
In a 56-44 vote, the Senate approved a Nunn-Mitchell amendment essentially endorsing Clinton's new policy of increasing pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to accept a peace settlement and, as a last resort, cutting off funding to support the embargo.
Then on a 58-42 vote, lawmakers approved a measure that could force Clinton to defy the embargo regardless of allied opinion.
Meanwhile, in another sign of escalating tensions, Bosnian Serb troops besieging Sarajevo seized a heavy cannon Friday from a U.N. storage depot but returned it at the demand of U.N. peacekeepers.
It was the seizure of such weapons that led to a NATO air strike a week ago. Friday's incident came as Sarajevo slid further from the relative peace of the past six months, when the Serbs stopped shelling the city.
The vital U.N. aid airlift into the capital was shut down Thursday when groundfire hit two cargo planes at the airport. An 11-year-old girl became Sarajevo's latest sniping victim.
U.N. officials were meeting Bosnian Serbs in Pale today to try to restore the calm, which has also been tested by the Muslim-led government's offensive just north of Sarajevo.
As many as 3,000 government troops moved to the battlefronts Tuesday and Wednesday. More soldiers flowed in Thursday but today the influx stopped and the fighting decreased, U.N. officials said.
The government claims to have seized 14 square miles in the past 10 days. The offensive apparently is aimed at breaking the Serb siege of the city, which has been cut off from the rest of Bosnia for most of the war. Serbs control 70 percent of the country.