Leading Article: A proper role for Turkey in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
NOW THAT the British government has decided to send more troops to Bosnia, who else should help? More than a century after Ottoman Bosnia was extinguished by international diplomacy at the Congress of Berlin, the shortage of peace-keeping troops to support the United Nations has raised the question of whether Turkish soldiers should return to the Balkan lands where the Sultan's janissaries once tramped. The issue demands prudence, recognition of Turkey's good sense, and a cool look at its past.

To dispose of a few myths convenient to Serb propagandists: first, Turkish rule in Bosnia did not force Christians to become Muslims; indeed, tax records show that conversion was slow. Second, the Orthodox church was a recognised institution of the Empire, while Christians and Jews freely practised their rituals and kept their religious laws. Third, it was, in fact, the Muslims of Bosnia who came under pressure to convert to Christianity after Austria took over from Turkey in 1878. As for the fabled waste and corruption of the Sublime Porte, the Ottomans ruled Bosnia with 120 officials but Viennese bureaucracy required 9,533. So much for the spectres summoned up when Turkey's role in the Balkans is discussed.

The fact is that the Turkish government has played a restrained and constructive part in the international efforts to end the conflict. Unlike the Greek cabinet, it has not succumbed to its most intransigent elements. It has urged Western action but refrained from adventurism. It has proclaimed its moral disgust but has kept its distance from those Islamic powers - such as Iran - which seek mere political profit from the trials of fellow-Muslims. Its charities have been generous and its air force contributes to the UN patrols.

All this argues for a careful extension of Turkey's part in the peace-keeping operations, perhaps in the air or by staff officers. But it does not lead to the conclusion that Turkish ground troops would be a good thing. Their presence would be as manna to the Serbs. It would inflame passions in Greece and play into the hands of those in Athens who believe that everyone except the Greeks is acting in bad faith. The potential for tragic incidents, real or staged, is also a threat.

A better option would be for Italian peace-keepers to deploy in Croatia, where Italy's own record is less inflammatory than elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. Their arrival would free other UN troops for duty in Bosnia - and encourage more hesitant European nations to send troops as well.