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Letter:UN troops symbolise hope

NEAL Ascherson often writes with the pen of prophecy but his extended piece ("How the West was shamed", Review, 11 December) on the impotence of Unprofor in Bosnia has strayed into black pessimism.

The United Nations represents us. As we sit in our living rooms angrily reacting to another seemingly insoluble problem it is easy for us to blame. What is going on is, however, the result of an historic cleft in our civilisation. As the warlords start pounding villages and towns fear takes over and the population retreats physically into ethnically cleansed areas and psychologically into the redoubts of bigotry, religious intolerance and family feuding. The ease with which this can destroy the thin veneer of our civilisation can be profoundly disturbing for us at home. "Why can't they do something?" I believe the UN is doing something very valuable.

With shells screaming over their heads and daily witnessing the carnage of unarmed civilians our UN representatives in the blue hats hold a banner with a noble ideal stamped across it. They represent the flame of hope that such heroic people as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov and John Hume have kept alight for us when everything around them looked hopeless and unchanging.

Some politicians have suggested Bosnia has nothing to do with us. But it does. We hear their screams in our living rooms. As a global organism we are getting data that will eventually lead to action. The time taken to do anything may be slow, and the bodies of innocents may continue to litter our screens. But as long as we have the information we, the citizens of the world, will act though the route to action may be hard to predict.

One essential component is the fortitude of the news gatherers. They must not give up. The power of the video camera must eventually be mightier than the Armalite. The same applies to those brave people of Unprofor who are sniped at by politicians, journalists and Serb partisans. They represent an ideal that spans religion and race. They represent us and our hopes for a better world.

Dr Jeremy J Vevers Copthorne, W Sussex