Letter: The world's duty towards Bosnia

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Sir: The responsibility for the catastrophe that seems about to overwhelm Srebrenica does not lie with the UN humanitarian relief organisations or with General Morillon but with the Security Council and the great powers which determine its policy.

As the guns of General Morillon's soldiers can only fire in self-defence, the success of his courageous ventures depends absolutely upon the goodwill of the combatants. The UN has given him no powers to force an entry to the town. The new UN resolution concerning the no-fly zone distracts attention from the main issues. While the question of the involvement of British Tornados is discussed, it is starvation, shelling, water-borne illness and small arms fire, not bombs, that are responsible for most of the deaths in eastern Bosnia.

Those of us responsible for humanitarian relief in former Yugoslavia have had no illusions about the fate of the people of Srebrenica, failing further intense political pressure against Serbia. Thousands of terrified people have been driven there from the surrounding towns, there is virtually nothing to eat, the hospital system has collapsed and people are now having to drink from the polluted river. The quantity of food required for a population of this size (60 tonnes a day) is far beyond the capacity of the airdrop.

From Srebrenica, which is surrounded on three sides by the border river Drina, there is nowhere for these people to flee. To reach the friendly town of Tusla (also short of food) involves a journey of more than 60 miles and crossing the front line twice.

There is still just time for the world community to do its duty. What is needed is a unanimous statement from the great powers, delivered in private to Belgrade, that unless the shelling is stopped and the roads are opened, dire economic steps will be taken immediately.

At present, to be asked to negotiate for the lives of thousands, with people on whom no discernable pressure has been exerted by the international community, simply breaks the heart. For too long the humanitarian relief organisations in Bosnia have been asked to salve the conscience of the world.



London, WC1

8 April

The writer was the World Health Organisation special representative in former Yugoslavia until 31 March.