Letter: How to bring help to besieged cities

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The Independent Online
Sir: The case for the use of arms to enforce the passage of humanitarian aid to the suffering victims of the war in Bosnia could not be illustrated more starkly than by your reports (front pages, 23, 24 and 25 August) about the need for the UNHCR to obtain the 'approval' of Croatian forces before taking food and medicines to eastern Mostar.

The appalling situation in eastern Mostar and the apparent inability of the West to relieve it constitute a damning indictment of the supineness, the callousness, the lack of humanity, and indeed the failure of political understanding of the consequences of inaction, of our European leaders. I feel both deep shame and profound contempt.

Determined action to force medical, food and psychological aid through to the many thousands of people, in Mostar and elsewhere, who are in such dire need must of course include protection for the distribution of supplies and protection for the recipients.

It will be objected in some quarters that such action will lead to 'Western intervention in the fighting'. Indeed it will. Effective Western action at this very late stage will be costly in financial terms and, alas, in lives, but is now unavoidable. I believed (possibly wrongly) that if we had acted 18 months ago, the armed intervention necessary to force aid convoys through might of itself have brought a limit to, if not a cessation of, the fighting in Bosnia.

It is too late for that now. Forcing aid through remains the first priority, but will not be enough on its own. We shall have to go on, whether as EC, Nato or UN, making use of the considerable forces that could be available if the political will were there, to bring the fighting to a halt.

The objective, it seems to me, must be to force the fighters apart and to keep them so. Only then could genuine negotiations take place for a political settlement that would reward neither the aggression of Serbia nor the opportunism of Croatia, and which might have some hope of preventing similar aggression elsewhere. Air support for ground troops seems to me vital, but the objective cannot be achieved by bombing alone.

Yours faithfully,

ANTONY DUFF

London, SW1

23 August

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