Hypocrisy that allows ethnic cleansing to continue

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The Independent Online
THE PHRASE 'ethnic cleansing', coined foolishly by the Serbs themselves, is misleading because it recalls for the outside world something even worse than the atrocious maltreatment and expulsion of minorities: Hitler's Final Solution. Bosnia's makeshift concentration camps and the periodic uncovering of mass graves as the front line shifts to and fro, have reinforced the impression that the Serbs are attempting the systematic extermination of minorities.

In fact, they are trying to force their enemies to flee, not to exterminate them. Ethnic cleansing is a new and ugly phrase for an old and ugly practice. Kicking out minorities has been a particularly well-established sport in the racially mixed Balkans, Asia Minor and the Levant since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Yet it continues to generate a crippling hypocrisy among foreign governments and international agencies. We find ethnic cleansing appalling, but on humanitarian grounds we feel impelled to take actions that facilitate the practice.

The dilemma is not new. In the spring of 1975, I stood at the United Nations checkpoint on the Green Line dividing Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, awaiting the arrival of the final few hundred among 140,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees. They had been 'ethnically cleansed' from towns and villages in the north in the months since mainland Turkey had seized one-third of the island, ostensibly to provide a safe haven for the Turkish-Cypriot minority.

Virtually the entire Turkish-Cypriot population of the Greek Cypriot-dominated south abandoned their homes and fields and moved north. They passed through British sovereign bases with the connivance of the UK government, which was in theory opposed to the mainland Turkish occupation and to partition.

Decrepit coaches disgorged Greek-Cypriot girls who claimed to have been raped, men who had been beaten and little old ladies who described systematic harassment. The Turkish guards bore dishonest documents that the refugees had been forced to sign 'voluntarily'; these said that the refugees requested permission to depart temporarily for Greek Cypriot-held territory, had made over their homes and fields to the Turkish-Cypriot administration, and were asking for UN help.

These papers were necessary to appease the conscience of the UN. Its representatives were able to pretend they were helping people who had decided, freely, that they wished to move south for a while.

Of course, the UN was not helping the Turks to intimidate and drive out the local population. Those who refused to sign were therefore turned back - to maintain the shameful pretence that the international agency was not party to moving unwilling migrants, and so to consolidating the ethnic partition of the island.

Today, the Cyprus problem still festers, but the racial partition is absolute and taken for granted. This week the newly elected Glafcos Clerides, President of (Greek) Cyprus, confirmed to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, that he would accept an ethnically based federal solution. He does not want to restore the instability of 40 years ago, when almost every village was 'mixed'.

The debate now is about how many Greek-Cypriot refugees would wish to live as non-voting strangers in a Turkish north, and vice versa. In truth, few Cypriot refugees will elect to exchange security among their own people for insecure minority status in their former home towns, living beside people who raped or murdered their kin.

So, too, in Bosnia. Once ethnic cleansing has taken place it is, in practice, irreversible. Yet the Owen-Vance plan proposes 10 provinces, all designed, as a matter of policy, to contain ethnic minorities. This is a formula for appeasing Western consciences and a recipe for future ethnic cleansing.