Letter: United Nations has power to impose ceasefire in Bosnia

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Sir: In the face of Nazi-like atrocities in Bosnia, our Government and others in the West have wrung their hands and pleaded impotence. Appeasement in the face of Serbian aggression and genocide have been the order of the day. A new strategy is essential. The UN should use its existing military resources - especially air forces - to impose an immediate ceasefire (with the combatants holding their current positions) and convene a conference to negotiate the final boundaries.

It has the authority to do so and because the ceasefire would apply to all the combatants there could be no accusation that it was favouring either the Muslims or the Serbs. The Russians would therefore not be able to drag their feet in the Security Council on the grounds that the UN was taking sides, as they are doing at the moment.

But to work, the ceasefire must be backed by force - though this need not mean large numbers of ground troops. To impose a ceasefire on the weapons that are causing the main casualties and damage - the mortars, artillery and tanks - air strikes, or even the real threat of them, would almost certainly be sufficient, as indeed the Secretary General of Nato said last year. These would require uninterrupted control of the air, but the recent UN decision to police the air exclusion zone and to 'take out' any offending aircraft should ensure this.

The means to implement such measures are available in the Awacs surveillance aircraft that operate in the area and in aircraft from Ark Royal and the USS Kennedy in the Adriatic. There would almost certainly be initial local small-arms violations of the ceasefire. But these should not cause civilian casualties and could probably be controlled by a modest UN ground troop presence. In addition to halting the killing, the enforced ceasefire would also ensure that relief convoys were able to reach their destinations without major interference.

Nobody can pretend that such a strategy would be risk free, and British troops could face casualties. But casualties among UN troops have already begun. Above all, the new strategy would mean taking calculated risks towards a positive defined result, and transferring risks from civilians to the military, where they surely belong.

The awful alternative is that the killings of civilians continue ad nauseam and that the conflict spills over into neighbouring areas - Kosovo, Macedonia, and maybe into a wider, menacing war involving other Islamic peoples. In Ju1y, the UN Secretary General argued in his Agenda for Peace report that the Security Council has the authority under Article 42 to take military action to restore international peace and security, and he envisaged peace enforcement units to restore and maintain ceasefires.

The situation in Bosnia provides the UN with a unique opportunity to put his Agenda for Peace into action - to embark upon peacemaking by imposing and maintaining a ceasefire there. If we do not act now, history will heap shame upon us.

Yours sincerely,


MP for Neath (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

18 April