Time to go: UN fails Bosnia

Issue 

By Frank Enright

The emperor has no clothes. The sham of the West's so-called peacekeeping operation in Bosnia has been finally stripped bare with the entry into the UN-designated "safe haven" of Bihac by Serb forces. Along the way, the Serbs captured and held hostage UN troops with impunity, prompting Bihac's mayor, Hamdija Kabiljagic, to observe that the UN troops can't even protect themselves, let alone his people.

Another incident only days earlier that highlights the failure of the UN project in the Balkans, even in its own terms, was the breach of the heavy artillery "exclusion zone" around the encircled capital of Sarajevo. Serbian gunners hit the US embassy, housed in the Holiday Inn, with five shells.

One political figure who recognises a transparent failure when it's paraded before him is right-wing US Republican Senate leader Bob Dole, who issued a call for the UN to get out of Bosnia. "The UN ought to leave", he said, adding that the arms embargo against the Bosnian government should be ended. "In my view, what they [the UN] have done from the start is to help the Serb aggressors."

Bosnian government forces had some military successes at the beginning of November in breaking the Serb stranglehold on Bihac, in the country's north-west. The Serbs had blockaded the city for two and a half years, and no food had reached its residents from the outside since May. But these small-scale guerilla warfare operations, while catching the Bosnian Serbs by surprise, were easily turned back by the better-armed besiegers once they had regrouped.

Supporting their Bosnian counterparts, Croatian Serbs operating from the Serbian enclave of Krajina in Croatia led bombing raids against the 70,000 civilian population inside Bihac, using napalm and cluster bombs. Napalm, a gelatinous and highly inflammable substance that sticks to the skin, inflicting horrendous burns, is considered by many authorities to be illegal under international conventions against weapons of mass terror. One attacking aircraft crashed into a block of flats during a raid.

On November 26, 39 NATO aircraft destroyed the runways at the Udbina air base in Krajina. But this failed to deter the ground attack on Bihac by Bosnian Serbs.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has called the bluff of the Western alliance on many occasions during his three-year war of terror. The experience of Gorazde, another UN "safe area", where the Serb attack was finally frustrated by NATO air strikes (but not before more than 100 residents were killed) was fresh in his mind. This time Karadzic correctly calculated that taking UN military personnel hostage would halt further UN retaliatory air strikes.

Karadzic has pledged to destroy the Fifth Corps of the Bosnian army, a force of 300-400 defending Bihac, with his 7000 well-armed fighters.

Bosnian Serbs voted in August in a referendum to back their leaders in rejecting an international peace plan, which would have divided Bosnia roughly in half between the Serbs and their Muslim and Croat victims. This would have meant the Bosnian Serbs giving up 20% of Bosnia, all of which, and more besides, was gained through an unrelenting military campaign. For as long as the Bosnian government is denied the means by which to defend itself, there is little reason for the Serbs to compromise at the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, although it is no longer the news value it once was, the Bosnian Serb army continues with the policy of "ethnic cleansing" — clearing captured land of Muslims, Croats and Roms through systematic murder, mass rape and theft. Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic reminds us that "ethnic cleansing ... is a euphemism for genocide".

On November 11, US President Bill Clinton was forced by Congress to unilaterally end the enforcement of the UN-sanctioned arms embargo against the Bosnian government — the victims of the war. Clinton's declaration drew the belligerent response from Karadzic that "we are going to declare a state of war ... and fight to the final victory".

Notwithstanding Karadzic's demonstrated ability to carry out his threats, in practice, as one unidentified US administration official amplified, the NATO-enforced embargo will be maintained by the US's European allies. "The Europeans are making a lot out of this, but their rage doesn't match the reality", he said, noting that the US wouldn't be selling the Bosnian army any weapons with which to defend itself.

US defence secretary William Perry went on record on November 28 as saying that the after 31 months of fighting, the Serbs look to have won the war and there was nothing more the West could do. "It seems that the Serbs have demonstrated military superiority on the ground." But the Bosnian defenders have not given up and will not, according to several of their spokespeople.

UN withdrawal

Now as Serb gunners send more to join the 200,000 dead in this one-sided war and in the face of further failure at Bihac, the UN is threatening all sides to the dispute that unless they agree to a cease-fire it will pull its 23,000 troops out.

Earlier in November, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, Muhumad Sacirbey, complained that his government would rather have the UN arms embargo lifted than the continued presence of UN ground forces.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, the former Sarajevo editor-in-chief of the daily Oslobodenje, Kemal Kurspahic, emphasised the point: "But the Bosnians never asked for anyone's ground troops, just for the ability to defend themselves. And by keeping Bosnia's hand tied in the face of brutal military force, the whole world in effect entered the war on the side of the Serbs."

To those Western leaders who worry for the TV cameras about an escalation of the war, about creating "level killing fields", Kurspahic asks the pointed and for them apparently unanswerable question: "If the victims of genocide have a chance to defend themselves, is that escalation?"

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