UN left 8,000 to die in Bosnia

Confidential document reveals plan to abandon Srebrenica six weeks before fall
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The Independent Online
Six weeks before Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica and murdered thousands of its inhabitants, the United Nations' top military man in the former Yugoslavia told UN diplomats to abandon the Muslim enclave and the other so-called "safe areas" in Bosnia to their fate.

Lieutenant-General Bernard Janvier, the commander of all UN forces in Bosnia and Croatia, made the call in a closed-door briefing in New York on 24 May. A copy of the general's confidential statement was obtained by the Independent.

His openly expressed desire to ditch the enclaves, and the way he handled the crisis in July when the Serbs launched their offensive, have led senior UN officials to conclude that the French officer, supported by leaders in Paris, London and Washington, deliberately allowed Srebrenica and later Zepa, a nearby ''safe area'', to fall to the Bosnian Serbs.

"Looking back on it now, there is no doubt that the general was signalling his intention, and the intention of those whose views he represented, to wash his hands of the safe areas," said a senior UN diplomat who attended General Janvier's briefing in May. "There is no doubt about it. Srebrenica was allowed to fall on purpose."

Between 6 July and 11 July, when the enclave was overrun, General Janvier repeatedly refused to heed desperate pleas for support from UN forces in the enclave, often over the objections of his own staff. According to UN documents and officials, General Janvier rejected at least five requests for air support from the Dutch battalion commander in Srebrenica. By the time he had approved the use of Nato air power, hours before the enclave fell, it was widely considered too little, too late. After the town fell, some 8,000 people are thought to have been murdered by the Bosnian Serbs - effectively left to their fate by the international community.

Six weeks earlier, he had told ambassadors and representatives of the UN Security Council and 35 troop- contributing nations that the UN forces stationed in the enclaves, including Dutch UN troops in Srebrenica, were "of no great use": they were isolated, poorly armed and vulnerable to being taken hostage. Limited reinforcements and other gestures, including Nato air attacks, also were of little use, he contended. The best option available was to pull out. "We have little time ahead of us. We must take measures which allow us to limit the risks incurred by our forces," he concluded.

"Let us be pragmatic and honest especially towards those whose security we hold in our hands: without lightning rods, stay out of the storm! "In saying that," the general added, "I do not feel I am betraying the spirit of the mission. That mission is based on the consent of the parties ... In the absence of the consent of the parties, leave them to face their responsibilities in the zones where we are scapegoats."

Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, New Zealand and the Netherlands objected to the general's recommendations, as well as to his perceived anti-Bosnian government bias. Others, especially the United States, Britain, France and Russia, stayed silent. "It was no secret that they all thought these areas were kind of headaches for them and that if they continued as 'safe areas' then they would continue to be problems for them," one diplomat said. Sashi Tharoor, a senior UN peacekeeping official in New York and a close associate of the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, defended the general's statements, and denied there was a plan to allow any of the enclaves to be overrun. Instead he blamed the system devised by the Western leaders to protect safe areas. However, diplomats who attended the briefing disagree.

"No one had ever said what Janvier said so clearly or so coldly before," said one diplomat from a Muslim country with troops in the former Yugoslavia. "They [UN peacekeeping officials] were always complaining they did not have the resources to implement their mandate, and that was true. However, no one ever said what Janvier said, that the areas are indefensible, that we cannot defend them, should not defend them and must leave them to their fate. That was completely new."

On 26 May, two days after the briefing, Bosnian Serbs took more than 300 UN peacekeepers hostage following a Nato punitive air attack against a Bosnian Serb ammunition depot near Sarajevo. The images of UN soldiers chained to ammunition dumps was a nightmare come true for General Janvier and his masters in France and in Britain.

A source close to the general said: "The hostage crisis only confirmed the general's view that they were an obstacle to his flexibility and that the UN should leave."

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