Serbs feel UN 'gave the nod' to attacks

BOSNIA CRISIS: Robert Block in Grabovica talks to nationalists who doubt the West's commitment to defence of safe havens
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The Independent Online
On the day that Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Mitrovic and his son-in-law, Tomislav Krstic, were working in their fields which run down to the Serbian side of the lazy waters of the Drina river. Just across the river, a stone's throw from those fields, are the hills of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And just over those hills is the former Muslim enclave of Srebrenica.

Mr Krstic, a God-fearing Serb nationalist, recalled that it was a hot and clear day and the hills rumbled with artillery and machine-gun fire as "our boys", the Bosnian Serb forces, moved in on Srebrenica for the kill.

Then, suddenly, Mr Krstic said, the sounds of fighting stopped. At first neither he nor his father-in-law could understand why. Then, he said, high in the sky, he heard the unmistakable noise of Nato warplanes. "We were in the field near the river. It was 2.40pm. As soon as the planes appeared the fighting stopped, just like that. The planes circled for a while and then attacked. From what I could tell only one plane dropped two bombs," Mr Krstic said, pointing to the hills in front of his house where he saw the planes.

At this point most Serbs would usually curse the West and rant about the one-sidedness of Nato and the incomprehensible anti-Serb attitude of world leaders. They would elaborate on plots against Orthodox Christianity. They would detail Germany's and Iran's plans to create an Islamic-Aryan state in the heart of Europe.

But Mr Krstic and Mr Mitrovic, while far from being Serbian peaceniks, said nothing of the kind. "Our impression was that the attack wasn't serious. It was half-hearted. Two bombs and then nothing. It seemed to us that it was only meant for appearances sake, to appease Muslim opinion," Mr Mitrovic said.

"Come on," added Mr Krstic, "If Nato and Unprofor [the UN Protection Force] really wanted to save Srebrenica, it wouldn't have fallen. It is the same with Zepa. Obviously, this is how the West plans on trying to speed the end of the war: by letting the enclaves fall."

Their assessment certainly flies in the face of yesterday's assertions by the UN that it was powerless to have prevented the fall of Srebrenica and cannot stop other Muslim enclaves from suffering similar fates.

"I am saddened by the fall of Srebrenica and the imminent fall of Zepa," Yasushi Akashi, the UN special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, told reporters yesterday after meeting Nato ambassadors in Brussels. "We are in no position to physically protect them," he said.

Mr Akashi did not rule out the use of close air support in the event of attacks on UN forces. However, the likelihood of further air attacks, even in defence of UN troops, is remote after last week's dismal failure in Srebrenica and a new Bosnian Serb threat to attack Western forces if they attempted to defend the remaining eastern enclave of Gorazde.

UN officials in Sarajevo said those threats had to be taken seriously. But Mr Krstic and Mr Mitrovic do not agree. They said that contrary to Serb propaganda, they did not believe the Serbs were in a position to really challenge the West in the enclaves if the West was truly intent on defending them. Although their views are little more than speculation, what is interesting is that they believed that Western inaction was not a result of weakness, but was because the West wanted the Serbs to win the war.

What makes their views even more interesting is that their "enemies" in the mainly Muslim Bosnian government share their opinion. Mr Krstic asked that if the West really intended to stop the Serbs, then why did the West wait so long before acting? And when they saw that the fighting stopped while the planes were in the sky, why did the planes leave. And why only two bombs? And why is the West doing nothing in Zepa?

For them the answer is clear. "The West is just as tired of this war as we are. I think the West gave the nod to the Serbs to do this [overrun the enclaves]. I am sorry for those people [the Muslims] but it really is the best way to bring this war to an end quickly," Mr Krstic said.

t Washington (Reuter) - The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, has proposed that his Muslim rivals trade the enclave of Gorazde for territory in Sarajevo as part of a peace deal, according to an interview made public yesterday.

Bosnian Muslims, he told David Frost in Pale on Monday, "do not need this enclave except to make it more difficult for us ... That's what we have been proposing, to exchange Gorazde for some built-up [Serb-held] area in Sarajevo, to give them exit to central Bosnia.''

Mr Karadzic predicted that "if the international community is ready to end this war, we can end it in a few weeks". But he laid out demands, including 56 per cent of Bosnian territory for Bosnian Serbs, compared to the 49 per cent offered in a peace plan proposed by the United States and its allies.

He also insisted that Bosnian Serbs be allowed to have their own state and that Sarajevo be split into "two neighbouring cities", one Serb, one Muslim.