Letter: Military intervention, not dithering, is needed in Yugoslavia

Sir: Last November, a leading article in the Independent expressed the fear that the Western world would come to accept 'a low-level civil war in Croatia, a war in which a dozen or so Croats and rather fewer Serbs lose their lives daily'.

Several months on, Croatia, having lost 10,000 people and still under daily attack on a number of fronts, is scantily reported by the press; and Bosnia, with more than 7,000 dead in weeks, and several hundred thousand near starvation, is still under bombardment, with a real threat of Kosovo and Macedonia being pulled in, too. It is an altogether more horrific scenario than that painted by your leader - and the Western world still, de facto, accepts it.

There is now the danger that President Mitterrand's visit, although positive in the immediate sense, may nonetheless throw a smokescreen over the real issue of a relentless war, being waged in many areas, which nobody is yet doing anything effective to stop.

As an onlooker, who did, however, spend several months recently in various parts of what used to be Yugoslavia, and witnessed the build-up of tension resulting from the political stalemate, I am stunned by the apparent absence of understanding on the part of the international community, of events - and indeed people - in that area.

While Serbia was busy restructuring the military zones and rebuilding the infrastructure, well before the annexations of Vojvodina and Kosovo, the West continued to turn a blind eye, evidently hoping that the Yugoslavs could sort out their own 'squabbles' - a policy endorsed by the US Secretary of State, James Baker, on his visit to Belgrade a year ago.

Now, with thousands dead, more than two million refugees, and the danger of a full-scale Balkan war which may yet drag in Western Europe, the Western powers are still dithering about what and how and when and even whether to do anything at all to stop the indiscriminate slaughter in what is, not without reason, known as the powder keg of Europe.

As it was obvious more than a year ago that the Yugoslavs were unable, for a number of complex reasons, to arrive at a political compromise by themselves, so it is now even more obvious that the war will not end of its own accord.

Economic intervention by the West a year or more ago could have saved 20,000 lives; military intervention will now be needed to prevent a European tragedy turning into a European disaster.




29 June

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