Leading Article: The test of the Bosnia deal

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN policy announced by the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Spain at the weekend may or not prove to be a sellout. That depends less on the text of the communique than on whether these countries have the will to maintain pressure on the Serbs and Croats. If they do, they still have a chance of rolling back at least some conquests and restoring a viable Bosnian state. If not, they are simply trying to conceal a Serbian victory behind a screen of diplomatic verbiage. Since Western statements on Bosnia now enjoy almost as little credibility as those of Slobodan Milosevic, the answer can be provided only by deeds, not words.

What we are being asked to believe by Douglas Hurd and others is that the Vance-Owen plan is not dead and that the measures agreed - which are due to be adopted by the UN Security Council this week - will bring it closer to implementation. These measures include expanding safe areas for Muslims; providing more explicit protection for UN forces, including US air strikes, if necessary; putting monitors on the border between Serbia and Bosnia to see whether Mr Milosevic is honouring his promise to withhold help from the Bosnian Serbs; and maintaining sanctions against Serbia until there is real evidence of co-operation. The aim, Mr Hurd insists, is still a political settlement involving the withdrawal of Bosnian Serb troops from territories occupied by force.

Fine and good. Note, however, that there is no commitment to the territorial integrity of Bosnia. Note too that the 'safe areas' are to be safe only for UN forces, who can ask for air strikes if they come under attack. Civilians may still be killed with impunity. Furthermore, traffic across the border from Serbia will only be monitored, not controlled. If Mr Milosevic is found to be still supporting his friends in Bosnia, another spasm of Western indignation and doubtless more lengthy negotiations will be necessary before a decision on whether anything can actually be done about it. There is even talk of letting the Russians do the monitoring, which would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen coup. And how long will sanctions against Serbia be maintained if the cries of pain increase among neighbouring countries?

It is not difficult to understand why the Bosnians feel betrayed as they watch the hopeless disarray in the Western alliance and the yawning gap between pretension and performance. Fighting to prevent the dismemberment of their state, they have been denied weapons and given constant false hopes of help. Their bitterness is now such that, even if the Serbs and Croats become ready to stop fighting, the Muslims are unlikely to do so. Displaced from their homes, let down by the West, cut off from each other in isolated communities, hemmed in by hostile states and possibly supported by the Arab world, they could become the Palestinians of the Balkans.

This is why it is not as 'realistic' as it may seem to weary Western politicians to settle for the carve-up of Bosnia now being discussed between Serbia and Croatia - and very nearly implicit Western policy. If history teaches us anything it is that a settlement based on manifest and deeply felt injustice is not a settlement at all but a source of further conflict, either chronic or explosive.

Having failed to stop the war in its early stages, when the price would have been much lower, the least the tattered Western alliance can now do to maintain a semblance of credibility is to match its actions to its words. If a sell- out is in progress, it will very soon become evident on the ground.

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