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Wednesday, April 1, 1998 Published at 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK

Kosovo: UN's New Arms Embargo

Yugoslavia has denounced the arms embargo imposed on it by the United Nations over the recent security crackdown in Kosovo as not being justified by any threat to regional peace. The BBC's South-east Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos, looks at the significance of the Security Council's move.

The UN's decision to ban weapons deliveries to the two Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro comes two years after the Security Council effectively lifted its previous arms embargo, which applied to all the six republics of the former Yugoslavia.

That embargo, which lasted for more than four-years, had done little to reduce the intensity of the fighting in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. In fact, the embargo's main impact was to help the Serbian side, which had inherited much of the hardware of the old Yugoslav army.

As far as the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims were concerned, they still managed to get arms through smuggling, albeit in smaller quantities and at higher prices than they could have acquired on the open market.

So what kind of impact is the new arms embargo likely to have?

In terms of the quantity of heavy weapons available to the Yugoslav authorities, none at all. That's because under the provisions of the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia, all the ex-Yugoslav republics have had to introduce arms control measures, which in Belgrade's case has meant actually reducing its stockpile of heavy weapons.

However, Yugoslavia wants to buy more sophisticated weapons to replace old stock. And, according to media reports in the West, three-months ago Belgrade and Moscow concluded an agreement in principle on the delivery of Russian arms.

But even if that agreement now has to be shelved, it's unlikely to have any impact on the balance of forces in Kosovo. The Serbian security forces have much greater fire power than the ethnic Albanians' shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA), which since its emergence two years ago has been involved mostly in small-scale hit-and-run operations.

And, of course, the arms embargo will have no effect on the KLA since its arsenal has been acquired mostly through smuggling. Last year's anti-government uprising in Albania, accompanied by the seizure of huge weapons stocks by civilians, has had the indirect impact of boosting the KLA's strength.

In practical terms, the Security Council's insistence on the pullout of Serbian special police units from Kosovo may have a much more immediate effect than the arms embargo. These heavily armed police units, an army in all but name, make a huge difference to the balance of forces on the ground and to the general atmosphere.

If widespread conflict were to flare up in Kosovo, perhaps the most likely trigger would be from the kind of crack-down against Albanians that the special police carried out a month ago in the Drenica region which claimed around 80 lives.

If the UN's latest resolution brings about a change in Belgrade's attitude, it could well provide a much better environment for talks to bring about a negotiated settlement over Kosovo.

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