UN turns deaf ear to plight of besieged cities

Click to follow
THE UN Security Council turned its back on beleaguered Bosnia yesterday, by pointedly ignoring an Austrian proposal for action under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter that would have set the stage for military intervention if Serbia's offensive against the country's cities did not end within 48 hours.

The ostensible reason for putting off discussion of the Austrian initiative was that it ran the risk of souring Lord Carrington's attempt to convene peace talks between all the Bosnian factions in London today. However, there is no support in the Council for military intervention of any kind against Serbia, and President Alija Izetbegovic's pleas to the international community for protection against the superior forces besieging his cities have fallen on deaf ears.

Council diplomats casually say that his letters appealing for aid and describing the tightening noose of Serbian forces on both air and land, are insufficient. They have asked the UN Secretariat to provide 'independent' verification that Sarajevo and Gorazde are under attack.

Despite vivid news accounts of the stepped-up attacks on these cities and the dynamiting of power transmission lines into Sarajevo, as well as detailed daily reports from UN peace-keepers, Council members are under instructions to put off all talk of international military intervention. The UN's special humanitarian adviser, Jan Eliasson, has meanwhile told diplomats that there are some 300,000 refugees in the north of the country and that their plight is desperate.

The Council is charged under the Charter with maintaining international peace and security, but as Bosnia is discovering to its horror, the UN can act only when there is the political will to do so, as there was in the case of Kuwait and later in the Kurdish crisis. In Bosnia's case the UN has restricted itself to classic peace- keeping and humanitarian duties.

The Bush administration has determined that getting involved militarily in Bosnia could end disastrously and there is no consensus among Council members on what action should be taken to halt the war, beyond calling for peace talks. Western diplomats continue to blame the Bosnians for bringing the tragedy on themselves and say that they are not prepared to have their own soldiers' lives lost in the Balkans.

Russia is the most staunchly opposed to any further UN action against Serbia. Britain asked for discussion of the initiative to be put off until the Bosnian parties have met in London, but it was clear that it dislikes the initiative.

The Austrian plan is the first to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, a step that would logically lead to military action against Serbia if it refused to comply with the Council's wishes. The proposal, which Vienna says it will table as a formal resolution on Friday, 'condemns the ongoing offensives by Serbian forces in Bosnia', and demands their immediate cessation. It also condemns the forced expulsions of Croats and Muslims in Bosnia and reminds Serbia that it is bound by international humanitarian law.

The best that Bosnia can now expect is that the Council President will issue a non-binding statement urging the Serbian side to end hostilities.