bosnia report
No. 9 February - March 1995
"Bosnianize" the War
by Haris Silajdzic

The Contact Group should give the Serbian side three months to sign its peace plan for Bosnia. If they fail to sign, the arms embargo against the Bosnian government should be lifted.

For three years our government has participated in every negotiating forum and signed every international "peace" plan. Last July we accepted the Contact Group (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) plan after the Group assured us that, if the Serbs refused this "take-it-or-leave-it" offer, international sanctions against Serbia would be tightened, the Group would offer greater protection of major cities that were designated "safe areas" by the United Nations and, ultimately, the arms embargo would be lifted.

Unfortunately, the Contact Group not only failed to tighten sanctions, it actually eased them. Instead of increasing protection of the safe areas, the Group abandoned Bihac by foreswearing any action to halt a Serbian ground assault that is now in its third month. Instead of ending the embargo, Britain and France have openly opposed such a move in the UN Security Council and the US Congress.

Time after time we have bowed to international demands that we make concessions, only to see them pocketed by the negotiators and the Serb aggressors. If this pattern continues, our sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity will be frittered away. And for what? Like other appeasements throughout history, the West's capitulations to nationalist aggression will not only prolong the war but also lead Belgrade to up the ante. Centuries of history and culture will be eradicated as vast swathes of Bosnia and Croatia are purged of all non-Serbs. The borders of "Greater Serbia" could soon abut Slovenia and Greece.

We have watched as the Western powers proposed a ten-way, then a three-way and now a less obvious but equally erroneous division of our country. We have watched as Serbian attacks on our cities somehow rendered Nato, the world's most successful and powerful collective, helpless.

We have watched as UN commanders redefined their mandates in our country as "mediating between the parties" and "peace keeping" where there is no peace, rather than protecting our remaining population and facilitating humanitarian assistance deliveries and the withdrawal of all forces other than our army.

We have listened as Western leaders have made various commitments, only to see their resolve evaporate amid efforts to maintain a meaningless "allied unity" of inaction.

All the while, the war continues through a third winter. Promises to the contrary, Slobodan Milosevic continues to re-arm and re-supply his Bosnian Serb proxies. Seventy percent of our country is occupied. More than 200,000 civilians have been killed, including 17,000 children. More than 400,000 people have been wounded. More than two million have been expelled from their homes. All this - and our pre-war popÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÀulation was only 4.3 million.

The Contact Group now faces two choices. First, it could continue on its current course, which is prolonging and widening the war. In Bihac, Croatian Serb forces and Serbian troops have joined the fighting and presented the clearest evidence of crossüborder aggression against Bosnia since Serbia's initial assaults in 1992. This course will leave Bosnia and Croatia indefinitely divided, the Balkan-wide conflict unresolved, Serbia's non-Serb population exposed to increasing terror and Serbian aggression - the greatest source of instability and unrest throughout the region - unchecked.

Alternatively, the Contact Group could, at long last, give the Serbs a genuine ultimatum: Accept the plan or the arms embargo will be lifted. The deadline should be no later than 1 May, however, because the Serbs will launch a new offensive during the spring.

The plan, which calls for an internal administrative reorganization of Bosnia and which has been approved by our parliament, should also be officially adopted - and made irreversible - by the UN Security Council. This would encourage moderate Serbs to accept it. In addition, Serbia should recognize Bosnia within its current borders. This would demonstrate Belgrade's sincerity in accepting the plan and be an important step forward in the peace process.

To show our good faith and commitment to peace, we would support such measures. But after years of failed negotiations and unhonoured commitments, the Contact Group must be firm and end the embargo if the Serbs again fail to cooperate.

Defenders of the arms embargo claim that ending it would somehow "Americanize" the war. Actually, ending the embargo would "Bosnianize" the war by enabling us to defend ourselves. For the past three years, the war has been "Serbianized". While the aggressors have received constant supplies of heavy weapons and equipment, we have been deprived of our inherent right of self defence. Our army already has ample manpower, which would be effective if we had proper arms instead of one rifle for every three soldiers. We are only asking for the right to receive weapons, not ground troops. Those who warn of the dangers of "Americanizing" the conflict by introducing US troops into this war are therefore answering a question no one is asking.

Defenders of the embargo also claim that ending it would lead to a collapse of the UN mission in Bosnia. Yet a majority of humanitarian organizations has already pledged to remain even if UNPROFOR troops leave. In addition, many countries have pledged to send troops to replace departing European units. Ultimately, of course, if Britain and France want to go, this is a decision for them, not for us, to make, just as whether we arm ourselves and defend our country is, by right, our decision, not theirs.

Defenders of the embargo also say that lifting it would provoke preemptive attacks by the Serbs. What is stopping them now? Certainly not the credible threat of Nato air strikes. It is our army and the will of our people that have prevented our country from being totally overrun. These - along with profound hope and our firm commitment to a pluralistic and democratic society rather than a fascist one - sustain us in our pursuit of a just settlement and a sustainable peace.

We hope to receive the support of the Contact Group in giving peace a chance through a genuine ultimatum to the Serbs and, if they do not see reason, an end to the arms embargo. Until now, the Group's policies have suffered from a fundamental flaw. They do not work. It is time for action and resolve, not mere idle talk and sliding deadlines.

Haris Silajdzic is Prime Minister of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This article first appeared in The Washington Post on 22 February 1995.


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