Sarajevo: we are still not doing enough

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The Independent Online
Dear Prime Minister,

Last week we visited Sarajevo for three days. During that time we held meetings with President Alija Izetbegovic, Vice-President Ejup Ganic and members of the Bosnian parliament who were Muslims, Croats and Serbs. We also talked with Brigadier Vere Hayes, the senior British officer serving with Unprofor, the United Nations Protection Force. Just as importantly, we talked with the ordinary people of Sarajevo and visited their homes. On our last day, we went to Pale and had an hour's meeting with Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs.

It is our considered view, following this visit, that UN policy in Sarajevo and elsewhere in Bosnia has reached an impasse and cannot be sustained. There must be a radical change in policy if we are to offer genuine help and hope to the ordinary and innocent people of Bosnia, who yearn for peace - but a peace with justice.

Although Sarajevo has UN protection as a designated safe area under Security Council resolution 824, in the first day we were there, 149 shells came down on to the city and sniper fire was incessant, day and night. By mid-afternoon, when we visited Kosovo hospital, the toll from that morning's shells and snipers' bullets was two dead and seven wounded.

Less than half the UN's minimum survival ration of 600 grams per person per day is now being distributed. There was no gas, no water and no electricity when we left. There is no fuel for the winter, and winterisation equipment - mostly plastic sheeting - had yet to arrive. The population faces the most extreme hardship this coming winter and many will die from hunger, cold and continued bombardment unless something is done.

These facts alone make a mockery of the UN's declaration of Sarajevo as a safe area, but the disenchantment goes deeper. Not only has the UN failed to lift the siege, in many ways it is seen to be its complicit enforcer.

It is the UN, for example, which refuses to allow Bosnian parliamentarians to travel out of Sarajevo to take up invitations from parliamentarians abroad. It is the UN which prevented the artists of the internationally renowned and respected Obala Gallery from accepting an invitation to exhibit at this year's Edinburgh Festival. And it is the UN which has decreed that journalists and others travelling out of Sarajevo can carry only six letters apiece, thus enforcing a cruel communications blockade on ordinary Sarajevans.

There is no doubt in our minds that it is possible for the UN to do much more to help Sarajevo and Bosnia. It is not a question of resources, it is a question of will. The Government rightly considers it worthwhile to spend pounds 1.6bn a year and station 18,500 troops in Northern Ireland to ensure that terrorism does not succeed. A proportionately similar commitment by the governments of the EC and the United States, acting together through Nato, would immediately transform the situation in Bosnia and would be fully justified. It is as important for Europe that violence and terror do not succeed in the Balkans as it is for Britain in Northern Ireland.

Nor can we any longer accept the excuse that military advice is against such an extensive commitment. On the contrary, we were reliably informed that the then chairman of the military committee of Nato, General Vigliek Eide, had recommended the dispatch of 40,000 Nato soldiers to Bosnia in early 1992, but had been discouraged from putting forward a formal plan by resistance at the political level.

A major upgrade in the airlift to Sarajevo is also urgently required. Again, there is no questioning our capacity to do this, only our willingness. A comparison with the Berlin airlift of 1948 makes the point. To relieve Berlin at the height of the Cold War, the West made 227,000 flights delivering 2.14 million tons of aid over 462 days. The Sarajevo airlift has already lasted longer, over 470 days, but in sharp contrast has consisted of fewer than 6,000 flights delivering only 63,000 tons of aid. Nothing could more clearly testify to the failure of will and consequent lack of effort to make a genuine attempt at breaking the siege of Sarajevo and the other enclaves.

We call upon you now to press for the following measures, both through the EC and in the UN, in order that more effective help may be given to the people of Bosnia:

First, that there be a massive increase in the amount of aid being delivered by air to Sarajevo.

Second, that the necessary changes be made in Unprofor's mandate, deployment and equipment to allow it to use force where necessary to guarantee the passage of convoys organised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Third, that Tuzla airport is reopened to allow a major increase in the flow of aid to central Bosnia.

Fourth, that members of the Bosnian parliament and other leading citizens of Sarajevo are assisted to visit parliaments and other interested bodies in the UK and abroad.

Sarajevo is about to enter its second winter of siege. Our conversations with Bosnian politicians and citizens have convinced us that they will not agree to any settlement that partitions their communities and leaves them at the mercy of nationalist Serbs. They will agree to a settlement only when they are convinced that the UN and the West will be resolute in its enforcement, and that we will not abandon them.

If the West begins now to take the measures we have outlined, it will help the suffering people of Bosnia more directly and effectively than has been managed so far, and in so doing we can begin to lay the foundations of confidence and enhanced security which are necessary for a longer-term settlement.

Yours sincerely,

(Photograph omitted)