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Bosnia's agony.

War rages in the lands that used to be Yugoslavia. as neighbors kill neighbors for reasons based on conflicts that should have been forgotten centuries ago, as men rape women for reasons based on politics, as shells drop on sleeping families for reasons based on nothing--nothing but hate--and as children not yet old enough to hate suffer and die, the world wrings its hands.

There must be something we can do. But can we?

It has been obvious since war broke out nearly two years ago that military intervention is not a good idea and will not work. Even the military geniuses who can usually be depended on to get the world community into a fray want to stay well clear of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia.

Less intrusive measures don't work either. The airdrops of food and medical supplies begun by the United States on the last day of February are the most recent example. Designed as relatively simple humanitarian gestures, the airdrops began on a Sunday. By Tuesday, Defense Secretary Les Aspin had declared them to be a great success," because they demonstrated to Serbian forces that it was futile to block ground convoys and would persuade them to lift their sieges of Muslim enclaves. By Wednesday, it was clear that what are "futile" are the airdrops. Serbian gunners turned their weapons on Muslim civilians who came out to collect supplies, and the people of eastern Bosnian villages that had held out for months abandoned them to the Serbs.

And by Thursday, having used the airdrops as backdrop to these victories, the Serbian military commanders made a magnanimous offer: SERBS REPORTED WILLING TO ALLOW MUSLIMS TO LEAVE OVERRUN AREA, read the front-page headline in The New York Times the next morning. The story quoted the reaction of a U.N. official in the area: "Things have started moving in the right direction," he said. The right direction for Bosnian Serbs, perhaps. Not for anyone else.

What does a Bosnian settlement look like after such ethnic cleansing"? Jose Maria Mendiluce, representative in the former Yugoslavia of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, toured the shell-shattered remains of Derventa in late February. "Once an ethnically mixed town of 56,000 (21,000 Croats and 22,000 Serbs)," The Washington Post reported, it is "now down to 10,000--all Serbs except for forty-five Croat and Muslim families. Colonel Slavko Lisica, who led the Serbian delegation, said Serbs and non-Serbs were |all living together happily' in Derventa now."

Such double-speak has become a staple of discourse on this civil war. The world has been watching the Bosnian capital on television since last summer, as Serbian forces entrenched in the mountains surrounding the city rain shells on Muslim and Croatian neighborhoods and gatherings--even, especially, on funerals for children killed in the shelling. But don't blame the Bosnian Serbs, says Radovan Karadzic, their political leader. At the United Nations in March for peace talks, Karadzic explained to The New York Times that "We don't keep a siege of Saravejo. We protect Serbian parts, all around Sarajevo.... The Muslims attack our forces from inside and outside. It looks like a siege, but it isn't a siege."

Of course it's a siege.

Karadzic's nonsense is a prime obstacle to peace. The war has been on for long enough now that almost everyone concerned admits atrocities have been committed by all sides. But it is the Serbs, aided and abetted by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the architect of "ethnic cleansing," who are waging systematic war, and there doesn't seem to be a thing the rest of the world can do about it.

If the fighting is allowed to continue, it won't end until Serbia has wiped out the Bosnian Muslims, driven all the Bosnian Croats into the center of Croatia, and annexed the parts of Croatia it covets. And then, one assumes, the Serbs will turn their attention to cleansing Kosovo and Macedonia of their Albanians. But if troops are dispatched to stop this civil war, tens of thousands will die just as surely, and their numbers will include European and American soldiers as well as the Slavic combatants and civilians now at risk.

Many observers, including a number of Americans who used to be peace activists, call for a sort of indirect military intervention--the lifting of the arms embargo that prevents the legitimate government of Bosnia from defending itself. But that, too, can only lead to more killing.

Meanwhile, the talks make little headway, with world leaders still trying to push the plan devised a few months ago by Cyrus Vance for the United Nations and Lord Owen for the European Community. So what about their plan?

For one thing, by basically accepting the status quo, it rewards the Serbs' aggression by legitimizing their now-dominant positions.

For another, it's silly. Look at a map. We're talking about a country--Bosnia and Herzegovina--that's smaller than a great many counties in the United States. And then we're talking about cutting it up into ten autonomous, separately governed provinces, all but one of them to be run by one ethnic group empowered to lord it over the other two. How long can such a "solution" last? Probably about as long as a similar cease-fire achieved last spring in Croatia, which left the Serbs in charge of areas they had invaded and conquered. It took less than a year for war to return.

The Europeans, who keep whipping themselves with old memories of appeasement, want to bring peace with force, but they want the United States to do it; many officials have said as much to reporters, off the record. As The New York Times put it, "One British official, speaking with the frankness of anonymity, said it was time for |big brother' to come to the rescue."

Sending in the troops won't solve anything. The only virtue of accepting something like the Vance-Owen plan lies in using the little bit of time it will buy to impose more stringent sanctions against Serbia.

We cannot hope that such sanctions will cause the Serbian people to depose their newly re-elected President Milosevic, but we can hope that a fully enforced arms embargo and economic noose will at least keep his depredations confined to Serbia--the only land inhabited by people who have actually chosen him as their leader.
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Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:1058
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