Letter: Bosnia - British stance; reactions to the camps; methods of military intervention; 'ethnic cleansing'

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Sir: I am disturbed by Douglas Hurd's disparaging reference on last night's television news to 'journalists' in connection with the alleged camps in Bosnia. Perhaps he should remember that it was precisely journalists (alas, not his officials) who discovered their existence.

None the less, emotion is playing a part in some possibly misleading descriptions - a reminder of the confusion that persists to this day about the various categories of camps in Nazi Europe. Unhappily enough, the terms 'death camp', 'extermination camp' and 'concentration camp' have become part of a universal vocabulary. Now, when we are confronted with an almost intractable problem, it seems to me essential to be very exact in all descriptions and to maintain some sense of proportion.

There can be no doubt that both the Serbs and their opponents in this civil war have established a number of 'facilities', but there has been no indication, and it is highly unlikely, that there are 'death camps' or (the same thing) 'extermination camps'.

Doubtless, on both sides, there are 'reception centres' for the temporary containment of 'refugees' and on the Serbian side for those, appallingly, elected for 'ethnic cleansing' prior to their transport out of the region or abroad. Also, there are so-called 'POW camps' cum 'detention camps' for the imprisonment of opponents.

It is unlikely that any of these places - on either side - are administered benevolently or with the Geneva conventions in mind. Furthermore, there can be little doubt that, at least in some of them, atrocities and excesses take place or are even the norm. But, just as it was impossible to verify this in Nazi Germany when the International Red Cross was given so-called 'access', so, I am quite certain, it will be impossible to verify it here. It is disingenuous to propose IRC inspection as a solution: it is only too easy to launder a camp temporarily and to silence its inhabitants by fear.

There is only one solution: all the parties to this new horror must be forced to submit not only to international control, but also to international administration of all these 'camps'. We must run and pay for these installations. It will be difficult for the leaders of this civil war to refuse such a generous offer, and it is the only way to guarantee the safety of those who are being held.

This, may I add, should not be a subject for week-long deliberations by governments or the United Nations while thousands are suffering and dying. The Western prime ministers should be capable of producing, in a one- hour-long telephone conference, an offer the Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Bosnians cannot refuse.

Yours sincerely,


London, W14

7 August