Letter: We must save the Serbs from their folly

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Sir: The UN, Western politicians and the media seem unable to comprehend what is happening in Bosnia, but without comprehension no one can help and help is quickly needed if a huge human disaster is to be avoided.

The basic fact is that the victory in the north-west is primarily a victory of the Bosnian army, highly motivated and now quite well equipped. The Serb rout is not stage-managed and will not stop. It is irreversible and must put paid to the whole gamut of Western diplomacy, built up on a basis of Serb strength and Bosnian weakness. That includes the Geneva agreement. It is a victory above all of the Bihac Fifth Corps and its commander, General Dudakovic, by far the ablest general of the war, fully equipped with tanks and heavy artillery seized in Krajina.

There is now no future in "Republika Srpska". Even if the Bosnian government were willing to sustain a division of the country as agreed at Geneva (and it is not), the army would not accept it for a moment. It won't stop until it reaches the Drina. It would be exceptionally foolish of the international community to try and stop it. Moreover, the likelihood of intervention from Belgrade is now miniscule. President Milosevic knows exactly how much he would lose by attempting it.

In the circumstances, the duty of the international community is to find a way of saving the Serbs of northern Bosnia from the consequences of their long folly. Then must remain in Bosnia and they must be protected. The absolute humanitarian priority is to avoid another Krajina-type exodus. Their immediate danger should not be under-estimated. Many of the soldiers, especially in the Seventh Corps, now advancing suffered appallingly in the concentration camps and witnessed the ethnic cleansing of their own communities in the very areas now being over-run. A thirst for revenge is inevitable and profoundly understandable.

The government of Bosnia, unlike that of Croatia, really does want the Serb population to remain. The question is how to make that possible in the intensity of a rout. The task of the international community cannot be to prop up a wholly discredited regime in Pale, headed by indicted war criminals, but it must be to prevent 200,000 ordinary people from attempting to escape along the single route of the Posavina corridor. Both the authority of the government in Sarajevo and the lives of countless refugees must be safeguarded.

I suspect that there are two immediate ways to do this. The first is to recognise an alternative Bosnian Serb leadership with the temporary responsibility for negotiating terms. The second is for Unprofor to secure the demilitarisation of Banja Luka and its surroundings. It is most important that the Bosnian army should not enter Banja Luka in a hurry, but also that this should not impede its legitimate and decisive advance.

Yours faithfully,

Adrian Hastings

Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Leeds


18 September