Bosnia Waits For Clinton

By Sarajevan standards, it was a routine trip from the airport to the city. Traveling in a U.N. armored personnel carrier with four French peacekeepers, Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Hakija Turajlic was on his way back from a meeting with a Turkish delegation when his convoy was blocked by two Serb APCs and some 40 heavily armed soldiers. Though the road was supposed to be under U.N. control to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian relief, there had been repeated complaints of harassment by Serb irregulars. When the soldiers, some armed with rocket-propelled grenades, demanded to see identification, Turajlic surrendered his passport. More discussion followed after two British APCs showed up. They were dismissed by Col. Patrice Sartre, commander of a French battalion a few hundred yards up the road, who thought he had the situation in hand. But as Sartre started to close the door of the U.N. armored vehicle, a Serb soldier leaned in and pumped seven bullets into Turajlic. He died minutes later.

"What the hell were the U.N. people doing?" asked a senior State Department official. Very little in the way of protection, as it turned out. Their relief efforts last week couldn't keep nursing-home residents in Sarajevo from freezing to death or, around Srebrenica, stop the first civilian deaths from starvation. U.N. peace talks in Geneva, cosponsored with the European Community, did nothing to halt the violence in Bosnia-and eventually collapsed. Even the U.N. Security Council seemed hogtied: U.S. efforts to enforce the no-fly ban over Bosnia went begging. "Neither the Brits, nor the French, nor [U.N. Secretary-General Boutros] Boutros-Ghali want an enforcement resolution before Jan. 20," says the State Department official. "They want to make sure they know what Clinton is committed to-not just verbally, not just as a candidate or president-elect, but as president." Once again, Bosnia must wait.

The peace process, such as it was, began unraveling long before Inauguration Day. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, rejected a plan by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, cochairmen of the talks, to divide Bosnia into 10 autonomous provinces (map). His reason: the proposal forced Serb nationalists to give back some territory and place heavy weapons under U.N. supervision. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic accepted most of the plan but thought the redrawn map of Bosnia was a de facto recognition of "ethnic cleansing." "It was very disgusting for me to sit down in the same room with the Serbs," he told NEWSWEEK. "But Vance and Owen insisted, and it wasn't a mistake" because it put the Serbs to the test. Yet the slaying of his top aide completely changed the political calculus overnight. Under pressure from the Sarajevo government, Izetbegovic pulled out of the peace talks.

He went home with the sympathies of America, where he spent two days pleading his case for intervention in Bosnia. Izetbegovic met with journalists and with national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Under Secretary of State Arnold Kanter, who listened to him rail against the United Nations for failing to protect his people but could offer little more than condolences. Getting an audience with Clinton's people proved a lot tougher. The president-elect and Al Gore were in Austin, Texas, talking trade with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Secretary of State-designate Warren Christopher was busy prepping for his confirmation hearings this week. And Anthony Lake, national-security adviser-designate, told colleagues he'd prefer not to assume any official duties until his boss takes office. But because candidate Clinton had been so supportive of the Bosnian government, "there was a certain amount of hand-wringing over here," says an aide. Finally, Gore flew to New York to meet with Izetbegovic.

The assassination of Turajlic seemed to dare the West to make good on its threat of military intervention. But decisive action isn't possible until Clinton becomes president. He will face a desperate situation with few options. A senior adviser says Clinton wants to "level the playing field" in Bosnia-at the very least by pushing more energetically than George Bush for lifting the international arms embargo or enforcing the no-fly zone. If those efforts fall short, Clinton may he forced to choose between two grim alternatives: either intervene with massive airstrikes against Serbian military targets-or give up on the Bosnians and draw a line against the Serbs in the restive province of Kosovo.