The Bosnia Crisis: Bosnia looks to Muslim nations

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A YEAR ago, senior officials in Bosnia were playing down their Muslim identity. They were, they would tell you, merely Islamicised Slavs, and therefore Europeans 'like you'.

They ate pork kebabs and washed them down with wine as if they had never read the Koran. And they dismissed as gross exaggeration reports that there had been anything other than courtesy visits to Libya. They would say, reassuringly, that there was no fear of some great uprising under the banner of militant pan-Islam.

In those days, the Bosnians courted Western, above all European, support. They certainly received little from the oil producers of the Arab world: fuel supplies have been short for months. They obtained EC and now US recognition. But they failed to get more.

Now they find that the suffering of the Muslims has aroused a response in the Islamic world. And they have decided to exploit this support, greatest in Iran. Yesterday, a senior Iranian cleric proposed creating an Islamic army to help liberate Muslim Bosnia.

In his sermon to worshippers at Friday prayers, Ayatollah Emami Kashani, a leading cleric close to the establishment, proposed the creation of an Islamic Army from the Muslim nations. He also called on Iranians to raise funds for Bosnian Muslims. He made his comments during the visit to Tehran of the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Haris Silajdzic who arrived on Wednesday.

Mr Silajdzic met President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who promised full support. He earlier met the Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, and goes on to Islamabad. He called on the Islamic Conference Organisation to find a solution to end the conflict.

On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, wrote to the ICO to convene foreign and defence ministers to consider 'military options' in Bosnia. Iran has already committed humanitarian aid. The Saudis, too, have sent humanitarian assistance.

But in terms of military intervention, the Islamic world is divided, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia taking a much less interventionist role than Iran. Yesterday, Turkey's Foreign Minister said he had proposed to the UN Security Council a plan for non-military measures, to be followed by military ones if necessary. 'The military steps envisaged basically involve a limited air strike, and avoid ground or protracted warfare,' Mr Cetin's statement said.

Most importantly, he refused to portray the conflict as Christian- Muslim warfare. 'This is not religious strife. Certainly Muslims are dying in Bosnia but Croats and Serbs, too, are dying. The losers are human beings and humanity.'

Support for Muslim Bosnia was also expressed elsewhere in the Islamic world. In Morocco, the authorities banned a demonstration planned by Islamic militants. And Jordan expressed outrage over reports of concentration camps.

The divisions in the Islamic world pose problems for the organisers of the London conference on former Yugoslavia later this month. They have yet to announce their decision on how the Islamic world will be represented.