Saving Sarajevo: 'Put Muslim-led areas into UN protectorate': Paddy Ashdown MP tells Tony Barber why Sarajevo must be saved

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE United Nations should declare a protectorate over the parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina that remain under Bosnian government control and pledge to defend it against Serbian or Croatian attack, Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said yesterday. In an interview with the Independent, he said it was no longer possible to restore Bosnia to within its pre-war borders, but the UN could increase its involvement to secure Sarajevo and other areas under the Muslim-led government.

'We now stand on the very edge not only of a human tragedy of dreadful proportions but of a political tragedy for Europe of incalculable proportions,' he said. 'I am obsessed by the danger of the spread of this conflict. In a word, the beast is loose again in Europe. In the last year, the beast has grown fatter and stronger. If we let Sarajevo die, then with it will die not just a great European city, where tolerance was a way of life, but our chances for peace in the long term.'

Mr Ashdown, who goes to former Yugoslavia this weekend, said that a UN protectorate, lasting five to 10 years, would expand on the UN Security Council initiative to set up six 'safe areas' for Bosnian Muslims. He estimated that 30,000 UN troops, with air power, would be needed to make the protectorate workable. But the UN would have to negotiate safe borders for the protectorate and ensure its access to the Adriatic Sea.

Mr Ashdown said he had reluctantly concluded that it was no longer realistic for the West to support the principle of a unitary Bosnian state, even though Western countries had encouraged Bosnia to declare independence and the republic was a UN member. However, a protectorate over government-controlled areas was politically and militarily feasible. 'We could tell the Serbs and Croats 'Any attack on these areas we're defending will meet a response. We won't attack you, but don't attack us',' he said.

He said the UN would also need to prevent the Muslims from turning the protectorate into a base for attacking Serbian- and Croatian-held land. He suggested a plebiscite in the protectorate which would ask people to abide by rules banning such attacks. He also said the West had badly misjudged the Serbs by isolating them. 'The whole of Serbian history is Serbia against the world, and we've played to that.'

Mr Ashdown said that the West's Bosnian policies had, in effect, collapsed in the face of aggression and territorial expansionism. This set a dangerous precedent for other parts of the Balkans and further afield in eastern Europe. Even the rescue of Sarajevo and some other parts of Bosnia for the Muslims would not restore the West's credit, he added. 'There's nothing we can do now that isn't utterly shameful. There is no more honourable peace,' he said.