Partition may be Bosnia's only hope for peace

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The Independent Online
THERE would have been a lot to be said for not getting involved in other people's civil wars at all, but the UN decision to intervene in Bosnia may well have been the right one, and it would anyway do more harm than good to go back on it now.

Unfortunately, the present efforts of the UN forces are not keeping the peace, and could well be prolonging the fighting. The trouble is that, without outside intervention, the war would long since have ended in victory for the Serbs, who are militarily much the strongest. But it is the Muslims, now getting the worst of it, who have the sympathy of the outside world.

To force the Serbs out of the territory they have 'ethnically cleansed' cannot be done only from the air. It needs soldiers on the ground prepared to fight, and a lot of them. Other ways of keeping the warring factions apart have been suggested, notably the defunct Vance-Owen plan for 'cantonisation', with the country divided into a mosaic of ethnically distinct enclaves and villages, and Sarajevo and other large towns with separate Muslim, Serbian and Croatian ghettoes side by side. But this could only work with goodwill, and that has been destroyed over the past couple of years by the civil war.

They have long memories in the Balkans, and the enmity between the Roman Catholic Croats, the Greek Orthodox Serbs, and the Muslims living mostly but not only in Bosnia-Herzegovina goes back to the German occupation of Yugoslavia during the Second World War, and indeed long before that, to the centuries of Ottoman rule, which ended in 1878. These three ethnically distinct communities are racially and linguistically identical as South Slavs, separated only by religion and history. In particular, the Bosnian Muslims are not Turks, as is sometimes supposed. They may derive from a medieval Bosnian Church, neither Catholic nor Orthodox, suffering persecution by both at various times.

Many of the Bosnians who were neither Catholic nor Orthodox embraced Islam after the arrival of the Turks. They did so voluntarily (the Ottomans did not believe in forcible conversion), but they also benefited economically at the expense of their Christian neighbours.

The Serbs suffered terribly during the last war at the hands of the fascist Croatian Ustasha regime. But they suffered almost as much from the Muslim SS Legion raised by Haj Amin al-Hussaini, the anti-British Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who had gone to Germany when the war began. The legion was used to suppress resistance by the Serbian royalist Chetnik guerrillas to the occupation of their country, which they did with a zeal remarkable even by German standards, provoking comparable atrocities by the Chetniks in reply. Later the Serbs were treated atrociously by Tito's Communists, in whose favour they had been abandoned by the British.

Given this history, it is unrealistic to expect that the three communities should be able to live peaceably together for the foreseeable future. An international frontier will have to be drawn between a new Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia, with transfers of population across it in both directions.

Population transfers are bound to be painful, but surely no more painful than the present situation. They have had to be done in the past, around the eastern Mediterranean in the 1920s after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, for example, and more recently in Cyprus, and in Eastern Europe at the end of the last war, and on a massive scale between India and Pakistan. They have usually resulted in stability, if not always in peace.

This is something that the UN ought to concern itself with, with no further delay. First, it must define the new frontiers as fairly as possible, and to enforce their acceptance on all concerned by the strongest diplomatic and economic - but not military - pressure. The Serbs, who have ethnically cleansed a lot more than is rightfully theirs, must be made to disgorge some of what they have acquired. Given the parlous position of their economy, largely as a result of sanctions that would be lifted as soon as they agreed, this they would probably be more or less willing to do.

The Bosnian Muslims, who have effectively lost their war with the Serbs, will have to make the best of what they can be given, sweetened by substantial financial aid, and the Croats will get the whole of the Dalmatian coast down to Dubrovnik, guaranteed by the United Nations. Then the process of population transfers will have to start, controlled and supervised by UN forces already there. This would be an important and useful task for the UN, which is more than can be said for what they are doing there at present.

The writer is a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.