Bosnia: the West has dirty hands


Bosnia: the West has dirty hands

Western media outrage over hostage-taking of UN "peacekeeping" forces in Bosnia and Hercegovina by Radovan Karadzic's Bosnian Serb army is appallingly selective. The Bosnian Serb army has maintained whole cities hostage in UN-declared "safe havens" since 1992, and tens of thousands of Bosnians have been killed. On May 28 — in an event that received minimal press coverage — a helicopter carrying the Bosnian government foreign minister, Irfan Ljubijankic, was shot down by Croatian Serb forces over the "safe haven" of Bihac, killing him.

The Western response to the hostage taking has been to increase or threaten to increase its military presence in Bosnia. US President Bill Clinton is clearly flirting with the idea of intervening, despite widespread domestic opposition to involvement.

What needs to be understood is that UN/US/NATO involvement so far has only assisted in the destruction of Bosnia. Western military intervention will not solve the problems that Western military and diplomatic intervention have created.

From the beginning, the West sought only sufficient "peace" to pursue its own economic and political interests, and that seemed most easily achievable through some form of accommodation with Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs. It was the UN-declared and NATO-enforced arms embargo which left the multi-ethnic Bosnian government virtually defenceless against attack by Bosnian Serb chauvinists, supplied by the Serbian government. While the US government unilaterally declared an end to enforcing the UN arms embargo, it is still being upheld by NATO.

The UN "safe havens" — intended to convince public opinion that Western governments would do something to prevent the tragedy their policies had helped to prepare — have been little more than traps for the Bosnian civilian population, surrounded by the Bosnian Serb army and "defended" by UN forces that cannot even protect themselves.

Moreover, these "havens" have further legitimised the carving up of previously multi-ethnic Bosnia. This carve-up was outlined explicitly in the host of "peace" plans and conferences: the Washington plan, the Five-Nation Contact Group, the Owen-Stoltenburg plan and the Vance-Owen plan. In fact the discussion of such plans was the spur for Serb and Croat militias to step up expulsions and pogroms to establish their national dominance in the greatest area possible.

It is evident that the West, and particularly the US, is interested in a prompt "pragmatic" solution. US defence secretary William Perry said in November that after 31 months of fighting, the Serbs seemed to have won the war and the West could only acknowledge that reality.

Speculation and threats by NATO governments of a planned UN withdrawal have started in an effort to put more pressure upon the Bosnian government.

A UN withdrawal, leaving the "safe havens" where thousands of refugees have gathered, without lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian government, is only a recipe for more "ethnic cleansing".

Bosnian defenders facing another winter of siege have different ideas, however, and the indication of what they could do with the small amount of arms they have received despite the embargo is enough to suggest a different outcome. A Bosnian government minister, Hasan Muratovic, recently called for end to the arms embargo to force the Serbs into serious negotiations. The embargo must be ended to allow the chance of a just and lasting solution.