Bosnians may get safe havens

Click to follow
The Independent Online
SAFE HAVENS may be set up for refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina, possibly protected by Western military force.

The idea emerged from the international conference on the crisis which ended yesterday. German appeals for states to open borders to take in refugees had little impact. Instead, the conference - held in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - focused on solutions that kept people close to their homes, and out of Western Europe.

Safe havens, proposed by France, would lead to the establishment of protected areas in Bosnia where refugees could be fed, housed, and protected from harm. It leaves many questions unanswered. Britain's UN ambassador, Martin Morland, referring to Palestinian refugee camps, said: 'I don't think the point is to have Gaza-style camps.'

There is concern that such zones will encourage groups trying to remove ethnic minorities. 'No one wants to be seen facilitating ethnic cleansing,' said Sylvana Foa, of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The meeting also discussed setting up camps in Croatia, and possibly other states bordering Bosnia. There was broad support for a proposal that these states should drop standard asylum procedures to provide temporary refuge.

German proposals for states to accept quotas of Yugoslav refugees fell on deaf ears, with support from only Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. Politicians from Germany's ruling Christian Democrat party yesterday attacked Britain for failing to help. Herbert Reul, CDU secretary-general in North Rhine-Westphalia, accused Britain of conducting itself 'in an indifferent, slack, even cynical fashion with regard to the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina who were suffering'.

The UNHCR decided to send two teams to the six former Yugoslav republics to assess humanitarian needs. Despite pledges of more than dollars 100m ( pounds 52m) given on Wednesday, the cost of winter shelter could approach dollars 700m, and refugee officials say the total cost could be close to dollars 1bn.

There are still big question marks hanging over the safe havens. They would require military support, and no framework exists for providing that. But officials of the Western European Union met yesterday in Rome to discuss protecting aid convoys, and the defence organisation could also provide military support for safe havens. Similiar zones were set up in northern Iraq to protect Kurdish refugees after the Gulf war.

Britain's inaction was criticised by Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats. In a letter to the Prime Minister, he called for intervention by Nato, under UN auspices, to 'freeze' the conflict. Lord Owen, a former leader of the Social Democratic Party and a former Labour foreign secretary, also backed Nato intervention.

Bosnia's men of war, page 8

Letters, page 16