Letter: Britain is neglecting Balkan tragedy

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Sir: Your report from Vukovar (27 October), the town in east Croatia whose utter destruction after two months' relentless shelling I witnessed on a visit to the former Yugoslavia a week ago, epitomises the horror of this civil war in Europe, where official British and EC policy can only be charitably described as one of drift and lack of urgency.

Britain, the EC and the UN have a clear responsibility for this Balkans tragedy, which at present we are seriously neglecting. The EC encouraged declarations of independence by Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, and then recognised them as sovereign independent states.

The UN imposed an arms embargo which perversely left the Bosnian Serbs fully equipped with tanks, artillery and aircraft left behind by the Serb-controlled Yugoslav National Army, and put the Croats and Muslims at their mercy.

Ethnic cleansing, which we have done almost nothing to stop, has displaced 2 million people, one- tenth of the entire population of the former Yugoslavia. Unless we act, an army of dispossessed Muslims, now radicalising fast under their influence of fundamentalist Islam, will become the Palestinians of Europe.

Effective action does not require tying down UN or Nato troops in a long, messy war of guerrilla attrition. Several initiatives can be taken.

The UN has imposed an air-exclusion zone over Bosnia, but not enforced it; it should be. In two of the four so-called UN Protected Areas in Croatia, murder, rape and pillage by Serb militias continue almost unabated. The UN mandate should be made tighter, with sufficient troops and equipment to enforce it. The anti-war coalition in Serbia, led by Dobrica Cosic, the federal president, and Milan Panic, the prime minister, should be much more actively supported by the UN and EC, now that they are under such threat by Slobodan Milosevic. For the West to meet some of Mr Panic's demands would greatly strengthen his hand in the internal power struggle now climaxing in Belgrade.

And the odious and deadly practice of ethnic cleansing must be addressed; there should be no relaxation of tensions until these stolen territories are demilitarised and refugees allowed to return home. As a deterrent on further atrocities against civilians and refugees, the UN should make clear that perpetrators will be searched out and brought to trial at an international war crimes tribunal.

Yours faithfully,


MP for Oldham West (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

27 October

The writer is Shadow Minister for Overseas Development.