Punishing a European state for the first time in U.N. history, the Security Council on Saturday imposed an oil embargo and a host of other sanctions on Serbian-led Yugoslavia for its bloody and shocking aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
By their speeches and their votes, members of the 15-member council made it clear that they were infuriated by the murder of civilians and the flight of refugees on a scale not seen in Europe since the end of World War II.
Their words bristled with even more anger over the reports in the last week of the incessant killing of civilians in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. One ambassador likened the photos to the horrific 19th-Century drawings by the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya of the “Disasters of War.”
Dismissing two last-minute attempts by Belgrade, the capital of the Serbian-dominated remnants of Yugoslavia, to avert punishment with appeals to Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and to the presidents of the United States and Russia, the council approved the resolution authorizing sanctions by a vote of 13 to 0 with only two abstentions, China and Zimbabwe.
In the most sensational appeal, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic asked President Bush and Soviet President Boris N. Yeltsin in an open letter to take control of “all the forces involved” in the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“We believe that only the United States and Russia are capable of assuming effective and acceptable control of these forces,” Milosevic said. It was not clear what the Serbian president had in mind, and no one expected either Bush or Yeltsin to leap at this offer to become militarily involved in the Yugoslav morass.
At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Edward Perkins said that the sanctions resolution would send “a clear message to the Serbian regime and the forces that it sponsors . . . that the international community will not tolerate the settlement of disputes by oppression and terror.”
In a statement to the council heavy with sarcasm, British Ambassador David Hannay dismissed the contention of Milosevic that he could not control the irregular Serbian militias that are trying to oust Croats and Muslim Slavs from areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“There is no doubt where the principal responsibility lies, with the military and civilian authorities in Belgrade,” Hannay said. “They cannot duck this. It is simply not true that they have no control over what is going on in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mobile rocket launchers are not found in a Serbian peasant’s farm.”
In Belgrade, analysts expected the sanctions to have little immediate effect on Serbia, which is self-sufficient in food and supplies of electricity.
Yet, in the long run, the growing international condemnation of Milosevic--now a pariah by vote of the Security Council--presented the Communist strongman with a potentially destabilizing crisis.
Disorganized opposition forces are now working together to challenge the nationalist leader. Even the Serbian Orthodox Church, which for centuries has been a pillar of support for Serbian leaders, has condemned what it called “Communist tyranny” and indirectly appealed for Milosevic to step down.
But if Milosevic continues to defy the sanctions and tries to absorb much of Bosnia-Herzegovina into what is known as a Greater Serbia, some ambassadors at U.N. headquarters in New York implied that some form of military operation would have to be considered. Speculation mounted on the use of military force to escort relief convoys into Sarajevo, to mount a sea blockade and to try to control the skies over the old Yugoslavia.
The sanctions against Belgrade rival in harshness the array of sanctions that the United Nations imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In both cases, the sanctions are mandatory and are imposed under those provisions of the U.N. Charter that allow the use of force if the sanctions fail.
The latest resolution prohibits almost all trade, including the sale of oil but allowing the sale of food and medicine, with Serbia and Montenegro, the two Serb-dominated republics that make up what is left of the old Yugoslav federation.
The sanctions also prohibit all flights in and out of Serbia and Montenegro, freeze all their bank accounts and financial assets abroad, bar the athletes of the two republics from taking part in international sports events, suspend all cultural and scientific exchanges, and reduce the numbers of Yugoslav diplomats allowed to serve in its embassies abroad.
President Bush promptly froze $214 million in assets held in U.S. banks by the goverments of Yugoslavia and the republics of Serbia and Montenegro. He signed the executive order aboard Air Force One soon after leaving Fresno en route to Dallas.
“The measures that I have taken today express our outrage at the actions of the Serbian and Montenegrin governments and will prevent those governments from drawing on monies and properties within U.S. control,” Bush said in a letter to Congress that accompanied the executive order.
The freeze expands an earlier order cutting off trade with Serbia and Montenegro.
The United States--which sponsored the resolution together with Britain, France, Belgium, Hungary and Morocco--had proposed that the Security Council also refuse to recognize Serbia and Montenegro as the successor to the old Yugoslav federation. In effect, this would have dropped the two republics from the United Nations.
But this proposal was rejected by other governments that felt it would not be wise to close down all communication with the Serbs.
In explaining their abstentions, both the Chinese and Zimbabwean ambassadors said that they felt a delay is needed to allow Boutros-Ghali to try to persuade the Serbs to withdraw from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Since China has a veto in the council, it would have killed the resolution if it had voted against it. Beijing’s abstention followed its usual pattern of voting on sanctions. In dealing with Iraq and Libya in the past, China, while proclaiming its aversion to sanctions, has consistently abstained rather than veto their imposition.
Serbian paramilitary forces and the pro-Serbian federal army, both believed to be under Milosevic’s control, have occupied one-third of Croatia and more than two-thirds of Bosnia-Herzegovina since those republics broke away from Yugoslavia.
Milosevic has admitted furnishing arms to Serbian rebels in Croatia, where at least 10,000 were killed in fierce fighting last year.
An additional 2,300 people--mostly Slavic Muslims--have been killed in the past three months in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has been under siege by federal troops and Serbian vigilantes since a Feb. 29 vote endorsing independence.
Serbian rebels, backed by the army and various guerrilla bands directed from Belgrade, oppose Bosnian independence because Bosnia lies between Serbia and the Serbian-inhabited areas of Croatia that the army now controls.
In a campaign to create ethnically pure Serbian corridors through Bosnia-Herzegovina, the rebels have driven more than a million people from their homes, causing Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Meisler reported from Washington, and Williams reported from Belgrade. Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this report from Dallas.
U.N. Actions Against Yugoslavia
Some details of U.N. sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro:
Bans all imports and exports, including oil. Exempts food, medicine.
Calls for immediate cease-fire, troop withdrawal, an end to forced displacement of ethnic groups and permission for humanitarian groups to distribute relief supplies.
Demands freezing of foreign assets.
Cuts all air links unless approved for humanitarian purposes.
Demands staff reductions at diplomatic missions.
Bans participation in international sporting events.
Suspends scientific, technical cooperation and cultural exchanges.