Saving Sarajevo / Letter: 'Our leaders must turn from their dithering cowardice'

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The Independent Online
THE shells still rained on the outskirts of Sarajevo yesterday despite some cautious optimism at peace talks in Geneva that an end to the fighting might be at hand. It was agreed that military commanders of the three warring factions may meet in the besieged Bosnian capital today after their political leaders ordered a ceasefire.

The plight of Sarajevo continues to draw an unprecedented response from readers following the Independent's call for an extra 1,800 UN troops to be deployed to reopen the coastal relief road to Sarajevo, with a mandate to use force if necessary. Some of the latest letters are published on this page. We have received more replies on the subject of military intervention than on any previous issue.

Our view is that public opinion can drive foreign policy. Your messages should be 60 to 100 words. You may use two fax lines (071-415 1371 and 071-956 1739) or address letters to 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, marking the envelope 'SARAJEVO'.

May it be that the new (United Nations) commander is bringing a new military commitment to affairs in Bosnia. It is badly needed to raise the morale of troops whose function of humanitarian aid has badly deteriorated and could yet face humiliation unless strongly led. My personal doubt is whether we have such in power in Europe or further afield. Or indeed whether our peoples (or our press) have the capacity to accept casualties in excess of those suffered in the Falklands, the Gulf and Lebanon. Such an outcome will enrage pacifists but scare the life out of those of us who fought for a cause in 1939.


Jelliston, Ayr

I am utterly disgusted at the inertia of our Government and the lack of vision and leadership. I am appalled that, having denied Bosnia the right of self-defence on the grounds that it would create a level killing-field, the Muslims are now being forced to cave in.


Chislehurst, Kent

I'm 17 years old an there is a war going on miles and miles away. The pictures I see on the television are the most horrific things I have ever seen. I really wish there was something I could do. I don't want more people killed, people from this country, but if it's the only way to change the situation, then so be it. Please Mr Major just stop the killing.


Chepstow, Gwent

At the end of the 20th century, how can we ignore the tragedy happening on our doorstep? My generation asked its parents to explain the annihilation of 6 million people 50 years ago and they claimed ignorance. What about us, if we know and still do nothing? And if we do not do it for humanitarian reasons then let it be for selfish ones: because we fear for the future, because we have to be able to believe in 'those flawed institutions that we erected to fend off chaos', and finally so that we can tell the next generation we tried.


Wimborne, Dorset

As doctors who have worked on humanitarian projects in Africa, we are well aware of the misery resulting from war. We would normally be against using foreign military force to implement a humanitarian relief effort. However, in the particular situation in Bosnia, innocent and defenceless war victims must not be allowed to die because we, their neighbours, lack the will to get the aid to where it is so urgently needed. UN troops must force their way through if that is the only way.

The UN must also ensure that the weak and the helpless are not only protected but guaranteed all the basic rights set out in the UN Charter. The risk of UN soldiers becoming casualties must be weighed against the greater risk for the nations of the world, presiding to their shame at a tragedy which will result in more tragedies and which will reverberate down history.


Shrewsbury, Shropshire

BBC News at Nine. Elegant 80-year-old gentleman, his wife and son refused transport in a (British) UN tank return to their fitted kitchen. A shell lands, the tank commander's mind changes. Elegant gentleman reaches for his hat, locks his front door, is driven to safety. As I imagine Douglas Hurd would if he lived in Bosnia.


Warlingham, Surrey

A student in the 1930s, I joined with thousands of others in a march to Whitehall. Our banners demanded 'Arms For Spain'. Those arms, which could have deterred the aggressors in what was in fact their dress rehearsal for the Second World War, never materialised. Death continued to rain down from the skies on to innocent people. Does Sarajevo have to be the Guernica of the 1990s?


London, SE21

I would like to stand alongside those who have reacted with shame to our futile hand-wringing over Bosnia's nightmare. We must at least save Sarajevo, and in so doing perhaps remove from the Serbs the impression that they can do what they like and face no retaliation stronger than words of censure.


Harrow, Middlesex

The tragedy of Bosnia is that the world's statesmen have failed to understand the nature and menace of uncivilised banditry. As long as Serbian forces enjoy an encouraging environment of full logistic support and poorly supported and armed resistance, they will continue to rob, rape and annex land with utter contempt for the opinions of those they regard as soft. Every empty threat that issues from the EC or United Nations only serves to increase this contempt.


Farnham, Surrey

I can no longer watch or read news reports from Bosnia. It's not compassion fatigue - I find that I simply can't control my anger that this should have been allowed to happen. I wholeheartedly support your proposal to raise further UN forces to re-open the Mostar road. I only hope that our leaders can be persuaded to turn from their dithering cowardice and act decisively. Bosnia shames us all.



As a Christian priest I feel deeply ashamed that Serbs and Croats, who profess to be Christians, should commit genocide against the Bosnian Muslims. I feel ashamed that our Government, the European Community and the UN are standing by and allowing this to happen. No amount of food and medical aid can compensate for the loss of life and livelihood.


Ashbourne, Derbyshire

A brave people continuing to publish their own newspaper despite deprivation and horror, with the theatre producing Hair, despite actors collapsing through semi-starvation - why should they be betrayed? Yes, Sarajevo should be saved along the lines of the proposals in your newspaper.


Kings Langley, Hertfordshire

I served in the army during the Second World War and took part in the Liberation of France on D-Day. What a contrast in our 'leaders' then to now. Through the spineless dithering of our politicians and their servants, not only in the UK but throughout most of the UN, it seems that force rather than justice will prevail. I visit Bosnia fairly regularly and was last there in October. I felt ashamed to be British.


Lechlade, Glos

The conflict brings into focus the need to see the UN force as a World Police Force, not as a participant in wars. As such it should intervene to enforce law and order, to protect the innocent, to ensure that aid and care reach the needy in circumstances brought about by the lawless.

The political dishonesty that surrounds the conflict in former Yugoslavia preventing the end of the conflict, and rewarding might before right, shames us all.


(no address)

Two years ago all those of us who originally come from that country (I am Slovene) and whose views did not coincide with the 'official' British policy were not given a chance to speak out. Save Sarajevo? YES. But I want to say 'too little too late' thus repeating many recently expressed opinions. Two years later it doesn't really matter to Bosnia if we do examine our conscience. If we feel guilty, just give them a little more food. I believe that 'too little too late' has been the deliberate British policy. No need to examine the conscience, examine the politicians.


Cookham, Berkshire

I agree wholeheartedly with Monday's article, 'A call to save Sarajevo', and want to know why this can't be done. It was brought home even more by the Riddell cartoon on the same day - too busy deciding the BIG issues - Maastricht and the Social Chapter opt-out]


Meltham, Huddersfield

Foreign students in North Oxford approach me with their clip-boards. 'What makes you enjoy being British? Few words please?' How wonderful if I could reply: 'We support the weak, care for the sick, feed the hungry, stand up against the oppressor, believe passionately in justice, and are prepared to fight for these things, knowing they are costly.' Instead, I mumble about gardening. Would they could put their question to the government.



. . . Save Sarajevo with whatever force is necessary to keep the Mostar road open. It must be done with the absolute will, determination and means to succeed. It should be headed by a single charismatic 'champion' - a knight in shining armour - to act as a figurehead for the concerted action.


Neston, Cheshire

What have we been reduced to when it is newspaper editors who have to propose practical and humanitarian solutions to counteract the atrocities committed by armed bullies? Meanwhile, our political leaders wring their hands and pay lip service to a common European foreign policy.

I am ashamed to be British and a Western European.



The crime of inactivity and broken promises by the West towards Bosnia is only surpassed by the Serbian atrocities. The indifference of the ordinary people, of the political parties, trade unions, churches, peace organisations etc, with a few honorable exceptions, is a devastating blow to humanity. Therefore, your belated campaign is heart-warming and we support it wholeheartedly. Ideally, unitary Bosnia should be preserved, this shining example of multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, whose leadership is the only sane voice in the insanity of nationalist and ethnic madness of former Yugoslavia.



It is inconceivable that people living together for years can behave in such a brutal and cruel fashion: and being a British citizen, I feel ashamed that our Government has not done more to stop the carnage.

I have owned a house in Croatia for about 30 years, so I know the people well - they are peaceful, kind and law-abiding: only a few of them are causing all this destruction of the country. I am sure that nothing short of force will stop the slaughter now.

Mediation and compromise will not work. I would like to see the instigators of this so-called 'ethnic cleansing' be arrested and brought to trial before an international court to account for this slaughter and misery which they have caused in Europe.



A nation is being still-born as we watch. A comparatively small breath of air from us can give Bosnia a lasting future or we can pick over the remains, mutter 'Sorry', and forget.


London N1

We wonder how history will record this tragic period of our times? How will it regard our complacent 'I'm all right Jack' attitude in the face of such enormous suffering? Will it say it was a newspaper's initiative that helped save Sarajevo and not the governments of the day? Let's hope so.

We fully support your proposals and hope passionately we can shame Major et al into making the brave but necessary decision to at least attempt to save Sarajevo. We abhor war but they have been fought over smaller issues than this]



Warrington, Cheshire

Your focus is too narrow and too late. let us remember that the bulk of refugees will be women and their dependent (often orphaned) children and (often disabled) elderly people.

It is women who will struggle to re-create homes and provide the food, clothing, love and attention that these victims need, as well as struggling to rebuild their own shattered lives.

The bitterest betrayal in this horror (bitterest because so often repeated) is the betrayal yet again of powerless women by the men in political and military power.


Alexandra Palace, London

I approach late years. I have no children. This gives me pause when I'm asked, 'Are you prepared to commit the lives of our young people?'

But why I don't hear a call to an International Brigade as summoned the young to fight in Spain in 1936? Those who first mount the barricades will be joined by hundreds and then thousands.


London, NW1

I have been travelling to Zavidovici on business for over 20 years and have made many friends there; Muslims, Croats and Serbs lived and worked together in peace and harmony until, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, nationalism reared its ugly head and political leaders, against the will of most residents of former Yugoslavia, decided to increase their power by inflaming old fears and passions.

Only weak and pusillanimous governments like that of John Major could allow this horror to continue.

History will compare John Major and his supporters of non-intervention - cowards in the face of naked aggression and indirectly responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands and the misery of millions - with Neville Chamberlain and his supporters of non intervention during the Thirties.


London, E10

I think that the Western leaders are being very selfish and conceited by leaving the people of Sarajevo to get butchered by the bloodthirsty Serbs. I feel that it is the responsibility of every human being to help save this city from the savagery of the Serbs. I am appalled to think that people who want to send money and weapons to the Bosnians in order to help them escape this massacre have been stopped by the UN and EC under this inhumane embargo, whilst watching Sarajevo and its people disappearing.


London, NW10

The folly played by the West has made Clinton, Major, Mitterrand and Yeltsin able to achieve their 'Final Solution' and execute an entire nation while raising the banner of 'Human Rights', 'Democracy', 'Multi- ethnic Societies' and the 'New World Order'. I find it impossible to give my vote in any future elections to people like John Major, who celebrated many times his triumph in maintaining the arms embargo to the Bosnian Muslims and watches them slaughtered, or die from hunger and diseases while our troops are busy counting how many shells the Serbian war criminals have showered on the UN military bases.


University of Westminster

In addition to the three main points outlined in the article, I suggest that the '24 UN resolutions dealing with Yugoslavia' are consolidated so that a clear objective can be formed and attempts made to achieve it during future peace talks. The present ones are completely futile words, with no real action being taken.


London, NW10

The easy way out is for us to close our eyes to the terrible suffering of those poor people in Sarajevo.

But when we open our eyes, how can we live with the indifference that stares back at us from the mirror.

If we have moments of truth, surely this is one of them.


Ramatuelle, France

I am sure Bosnia was every bit as beautiful, a short while ago, as Provence. But Bosnia is now barbaric and Provence is civilised. Perhaps one day Provence will be barbaric and Bosnia will be civilised. Maybe we have become blinded by our own comfortable bourgeois 'Provencal' lives and should attempt to save; not just 'A year in Bosnia', but indeed the whole of civilised Europe, which stands yet again on the brink of barbarism. I wish our campaign luck.


Welshpool, Wales

Is it not racialist to propose intervention in a war of white Europeans when we have ignored and continue to ignore conflicts of equal horror in other parts of the globe?

Is it not a cruel rhetoric to compare this civil war to the Nazi expansion of the 1930s while ignoring the parallels of Vietnam, Afganistan, Northern Ireland and Somalia in each of which, in their different ways, armies of protection became seen - and attacked - as armies of occupation by those they thought they had come to protect?

Are all these good liberal people baying for war prepared to volunteer to shed their own blood, or that of their own sons and daughters in this enterprise?


Earlsdon, Coventry

I'm only young but I understand the needs of the people in the towns in former Yugoslavia. The people want peace, and security; not to be killed or have the fear of being shot.

These people need more water, more food; basically more help] More troops could be sent to stand up for the people's rights. To fight for what is theirs. Why let this suffering take place, when we can help? If it was us in this war, we would expect help from those who would be able to give it]

Why let innocent people die when we could do more?


Shoeburyness, Essex

As individuals we have been numbed by the carnage in former Yugoslavia. As a group we feel that decisive action must now be taken. Although we share the reluctance to use military force, it seems that no alternative remains. We hope as a result of this combined statement that somebody will listen]


University of Leicester

I am absolutely opposed to putting a single soldier's life at risk.

Enough is enough. People who are itching to sacrifice other people's lives should take a look at the graves in France - a war (Sarajevo, 1914) that really had nothing to do with Great Britain.


Kenilworth, Warwickshire

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