Muslim countries anxious to help Balkan brethren

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The Independent Online
ISLAMIC countries are stepping up their demands for military action to halt the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav republic where Muslims were the largest nationality before the war, writes Tony Barber. Hamid Algabid, the Secretary General of the 47-nation Islamic Conference Organisation, told the London talks on Yugoslavia on Tuesday that the Serbs were using 'blind and brutal' force in Bosnia to achieve territorial expansion.

'It is well known to all that the ambitions of Serbian leaders are to substitute a Greater Serbia for former Yugoslavia,' said Mr Algabid, a former prime minister of the West African state of Niger. He said that if the Bosnian war could not be ended peacefully, the United Nations should back up its resolutions with force.

Turkey's Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, said the Bosnian war was 'one of aggression, the unbridled use of force, and the attempt to gain territory through the use of force and ethnic cleansing'.

Describing the conflict as 'a source of shame for each and every one of us', he added: 'It involves crimes against humanity and a deliberate design to wipe out an entire community through murder or forced displacement. While the Serbian aggressor has a free hand, the Bosnian victim continues to be denied the legitimate right of self-defence.'

Turkish public opinion is particularly affected by the Bosnian war because more than 2 million people of Bosnian Muslim origin live in Turkey. They are descended from immigrants who moved to Turkey from 1878 until well after the Second World War. The Ottoman Empire ruled Bosnia for centuries until the Habsburgs took over in 1878.

Mr Cetin said an even worse tragedy than the Bosnian war was looming in Kosovo and the Sandzak region of southern Serbia. About 90 per cent of Kosovo's 2 million people are ethnic Albanians with a mainly Muslim culture shared by the Sandzak's people. Both regions have voted for self-rule in referendums declared void by the Serbian authorities.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and various Islamic charitable groups have offered humanitarian aid to the Bosnian Muslims. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Islamic volunteers are fighting on the Muslim side. The danger is that, if the war spreads to Kosovo and Macedonia, it will inflame the Muslim populations of Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.