Back to war or forward to cities of hope: A cosmopolitan Bosnia offers the best chance of peace, argue Mary Kaldor and Mient Jan Faber

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The Independent Online
LAST SATURDAY, the 'contact group' - United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - decided upon its response to the failure of the Bosnian Serbs to accept the latest peace plan. The group announced that it would tighten sanctions on the new Yugoslavia and 'widen' Nato protection of safe havens and weapons exclusion zones within Bosnia-Herzegovina. The international community may also lift the arms embargo on Bosnia-Herzegovina, which in turn would make withdrawal of UN troops more likely, something the UN Secretary General has already proposed.

The main effect of these measures will be to worsen the situation. Although the war will not be as intense as in some earlier periods, it will be much worse than now. There is not a lot that can be done to tighten the sanctions further. 'Widening' protection of safe havens would require additional ground troops; if the international community is unwilling to provide them, the alternative is air strikes, which are notoriously ineffective without follow-through on the ground. And, since most types of weapons are already getting through, lifting the arms embargo would not make much difference.

Diplomatic efforts are likely to continue sporadically. Enclaves will remain even more precariously under siege, dependent on inadequate humanitarian assistance. In short, the international community will have succeeded only in reducing the war to manageable proportions, at least for a fickle and restive Western public. Like Northern Ireland or Cyprus, Bosnia will become something we have learnt to live with.

Is there an alternative? The contact group proposal divides Bosnia-Herzegovina into a Croat-Muslim part and a Serbian part, and nothing more. But this map does contain two positive elements. First, it assumes the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Bosnian Serbs had wanted territorial guarantees so that they could eventually join Serbia, but the Russian foreign minister told President Milosevic that no referendum on the status of Bosnians in Serb territory could be held within two or three years). Secondly, certain disputed areas are to be put under temporary international administration along the lines already agreed for Mostar and Sarajevo. The EU is supposed to administer a sausage-shaped area including the present 'safe areas' in eastern Bosnia, while the UN is supposed to protect other 'hot spots' such as Brcko and Dobaj. It is proposed to use Nato forces to protect those areas.

This proposal for international administration should be implemented straight away. There are already Unprofor troops in the 'safe areas' - Gorazde, Zepa, Srebrenica - and the roads (corridors) connecting them are regularly used by UN-protected convoys. This kind of protection should, however, be upgraded substantially. Nato forces should take over the role of Unprofor, since they are better armed and equipped and, if given a mandate, could really function as a counter-threat. Nato should also ask the Partnership for Peace (PFP) countries to join in, in particular Russia. It is possible that this proposal could be accepted by both sides.

The protectorates could provide an umbrella for the reconstruction of cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina along cosmopolitan principles. Over the last couple of months, more and more international organisations have been opening offices in Sarajevo. Moreover, many more people have been able to visit the city, thanks to a more flexible policy on the part of UN agencies (Unprofor, UNHCR, Unicef, Unesco). This policy should be extended to other potential UN/EU protectorates, so they can become 'open cities' connected with the outside world in a variety of ways. The international community would need to provide substantial aid for reconstruction, and non-governmental organisations should be encouraged to offer assistance. The aim would be to make these areas the symbols of an emerging cosmopolitan Bosnia-Herzegovina in which people are treated as citizens with equal rights and not as 'marked strangers' labelled by ethno-religious background.

Why should the international community be willing to provide resources, including additional troops, for this proposal when it is unwilling to protect effectively the safe havens it has already declared? The reason is that the idea of international administrations and 'open cities' does offer the possibility of mobilising political support. If that support is not forthcoming, the prospects not just for Bosnia, but also for a democratic Europe, seem dim. How many Bosnias, Somalias, Northern Irelands, can we live with?

The Helsinki Citizens Assembly plans a campaign this autumn for 'open cities' in Bosnia-Herzegovina. For information, contact 071-272 9092.

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