Letter: Saving Sarajevo: leaders lack principle; the need for intervention becomes urgent

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Sir: Your paper is quite rightly raising the profile of the plight of Sarajevo ('Saving Sarajevo' campaign, launched 26 July). However, experience in Afghanistan suggests that the 1,800 additional troops you propose would not be sufficient to keep open the Mostar road.

The Halo Trust - a London- based charity funded by the British government and the European Community - is clearing mines beside a stretch of road similar in length, terrain and importance to the Mostar stretch. This is the Shomali road, running north from Kabul for 100 or so miles to the Hindu Kush. It was the key supply route for food, fuel and arms during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It took the Kabul regime and the Soviet army far more than 1,800 troops to keep it open, and cost the lives of thousands.

To create a cordon sanitaire to pre-vent occasional attacks by very small groups of mujahedin armed with shoulder-held anti-tank weapons (rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs), every village was razed to the ground, vineyards burnt, orchards felled, kilometres of protective minefields laid and every dip, hollow, ruined building, irrigation canal or stream within 400 metres of the road mined to prevent the possibility of ambush. Road convoys were also protected by helicopter gunships and jets, and an air-bridge was kept open to Kabul, making it the busiest airport in Asia. And still the Russians failed.

The Halo Trust will be clearing mines in Shomali for another five years to enable the 500,000 displaced Afghans to return home; meanwhile, the International Red Cross will continue to perform amputations on civilian victims of mines. This can be the sad, expensive and dangerous end-game to a policy of keeping roads open by force against modern hand-held weaponry such as RPGs (which are also numerous in Bosnia).

Inshallah, someone can come up with a Bosnian plan that will not end in yet more tears.

Yours faithfully,




4 August