Why we mustn't accept quick-fix solution

BOSNIA Robert Fisk argues that US policy in Bosnia carries grave risks for Europe by accepting ethnic cleansing
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The Independent Online
PHILIP BLOOMER is a gentle man with as much bespectacled collegiate politeness as any other Oxfam official. But as CNN was publicising the latest exploits of Nato's warriors of the sky over Bosnia last week, he was in bitter mood. "The United States seems hell-bent on a quick solution to this problem - they are looking for some kind of quick and dirty settlement," he said. He ate his Balkan lunch of bread and onion soup with the irritation of someone who believes the world has gone mad. "There are many things that will be left under the table rather than on the negotiating table."

Three years ago, after the Serbs had murdered and raped their way through the Muslims of Bosnia, men like Mr Bloomer may have taken a somewhat different approach. In those days, of course, we all wanted Europe to prove that aggression does not pay, that war crimes will be punished, that the good old liberal values we have tried to uphold since the Second World War are not dead. And now, when at last the West has gone to war in Bosnia - for that is what we did last week - those who might once have welcomed the initiative are near to despair. As one European Union monitor, himself an intelligence officer in a Nato army, contemptuously put it as the Americans, French and British were still bombing the Serbs: "The world has too many air force generals - these people have no political maturity."

Among the UN officers who have witnessed their own humiliation over the past three years, there was almost equal spite. "The Americans think they're going to wrap up the war and give us a quick-fix solution," one of their senior operations officers said yesterday. "But it's not going to be the solution we want and we're going to pay for this for years to come."

Put simply, there is a growing belief - supported by an ever-growing body of evidence - that the Balkan solution America favours bears no relation to the liberal and democratic Europe for which French, British and other UN soldiers (but no Americans) have already died in Bosnia and Croatia.

The United States' open political support for the Croatian government's brutal ethnic cleansing of its own Serbs in the breakaway Krajina district of Croatia should have made this clear enough. This cruel operation was presented to the world as the rightful return of Croatian national territory after years of UN impotence, and an opportunity to give the Serbs - the only ethnic group currently suffering the kind of bestialisation generally reserved for Arab or African leaders - a taste of their own medicine. Peter Galbraith, the US ambassador to Croatia, then assured us that what had happened in Krajina was "not ethnic cleansing".

This extraordinary - and totally untrue - statement followed an even more meretricious remark in an interview Galbraith gave in, of all places, the Croatian airlines magazine, in which he called Croatian Serbs, whose families have lived in the region for around 400 years, "so-called local Serbs". In any event, almost a quarter of a million of Mr Galbraith's "so-called" local Serbs have now been driven from their homes, and the drunken rabble that the Croatian army has sent into the Krajina is currently burning whole Serb villages while murdering the few elderly men and women who tried to stay in their homes.

Mr Galbraith's extraordinary comment on the provenance of Krajina's Serbs - which he must have known to be incorrect unless the US embassy in Zagreb has lost contact with reality - was perhaps the most chilling of the past month. For if these were not local Serbs, then they had no right to be in Krajina. The implication was that they must have come from Bosnia and therefore, perhaps, were themurderers who had slaughtered so many Muslims. Of course, they were not the same Serbs. But they have been driven out and their homes systematically destroyed to ensure that they do not return. Croatia is thus, today, almost an "ethnically pure" state as well as a potential future member of the European Union.

The next grim sign of what is in store for the Balkans came at Gorazde, from which the British army hastily retreated after dark last week because, so we were told, British soldiers would have become hostages had they not done so. Had they remained, perhaps last week's Nato strikes could not have been carried out. And it was the British "success" in avoiding this fate - rather than their abandonment of 60,000 Muslims - that was publicised around the world. Not one word did we hear from the Muslims of Gorazde in response to the West's promise that air strikes - which failed them in the past - would defend them in the future.

For Gorazde, too, is clearly to be handed over to the Serbs under the American peace settlement, giving the men to whom we have been "teaching a lesson" an ethnically "clean" belt of Bosnia down the valley of the Drina - in return, no doubt, for some handover of territory to the Muslims in the west.

In the meantime, Croatian forces have moved eastwards from their frontier to form a 10-mile deep buffer zone in western Bosnia, a good strategic belt of land for putting pressure on the Bosnian Muslim government should they themselves not appreciate the morality of America's new policy in the Balkans. Philip Bloomer of Oxfam is currently touring the Balkans to publicise Oxfam's own fears of what is coming about at such great speed in south-eastern Europe.

"The Americans are going to accept ethnically pure states," he says. "This is going to come back to haunt the European community. A great number of nationalist eyes in Europe are watching events here very closely and they will like what they see if this goes ahead. The consequences for Europe are enormous. It's obvious that Europe has failed in the political project to resolve the conflict here. But if this negotiation goes ahead and is successful, it has major implications for the enlargement of Europe. It will leave millions of Europeams worried about whether they want EU citizenship if this means that Europe will include ethnically-cleansed states."

Bloomer's other contention - that there is a great deal more public support in the West than people realise for on-the-ground military intervention, "even if this means more body-bags than [Foreign Secretary Malcolm] Rifkind would like to admit" - is more questionable. Last week's air strikes and the subsequent gun-at-the-head peace talks which followed were final proof of Europe's political failure in the Balkans.

Yet what if the next cast of characters does not play according to America's tune? What if Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosnian Muslims refuse to surrender Gorazde to the Serbs? What if they call for justice and - even more infuriating - what if they demand the multi-ethnic state which we have all along claimed to support in Bosnia? Will they then become "so-called local Muslims"? Then it will presumably be their turn to face the threat of US firepower. European principles demand a right of return for refugees, the protection of minorities, a refusal to reward aggression. All will disappear if America's apparent "peace" is imposed in the Balkans. How many people then will be proud to call themselves good Europeans?