A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
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April/May 1994, Page 6
After the Ultimatum: Deliverance in Bosnia?
By Richard H. Curtiss
"For so long we begged and prayed for the world's help ... but it has come too late for my daughter. If they had given the ultimatum before, Jadranka would still be alive. So would thousands of others."
—Ediba Minic, whose daughter was among 68 killed Feb. 5 by a mortar shell in the Sarajevo marketplace, quoted in Washington Post, March 9, 1994
"Imagine if Sarajevo were a 'Christian-led' city and the forces doing the raping and shelling were Muslim. It would have been stopped in a month."
—Writer Susan Sontag, quoted in Wall Street Journal, March 18, 1994
The two agreements signed March 18 in Washington, DC represented either the first step toward dismantling the two-year old multicultural Republic of Bosnia, or the first step toward its reconstruction. Which it will be depends largely upon the attention Balkan diplomacy commands in the White House over the coming year.
The first of the agreements was signed by Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic and Bosnian Croat representative Kresimir Zubac. It formalized the new Bosnian federation, whose52-page constitution, drafted in 10 days of negotiations at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, divides the country into cantons, some Muslim-dominated, some Croat-dominated, and some mixed.
The second agreement, signed by President Alija Izetbegovic of the Republic of Bosnia and President Franjo Tudjman of the Republic of Croatia, forms a loose confederation between the two republics. The problem facing both Bosnia and Croatia was symbolized by the absence of any representative of Serbia, or the "Serb Republic" which occupies 70 percent of Bosnia's land, or of the -Krajina Republic," set up by Serbs on a third of Croatia's land.
"The agreements signed today offer one of the first clear signals that parties of this conflict are willing to end the violence and begin a process of reconstruction, " said President Clinton at the signing ceremony. "Serbia and the Serbs of Bosnia cannot sidestep their own responsibility to achieve an enduring peace. "
"It's another step toward partition,' commented former U.S. State Department Bosnian desk officer Marshall Harris, who resigned in August 1993 in protest against U.S. Bosnian policy. "I'm gravely concerned that the way we entice them [the Serbs] toward peace is by giving them everything they ask for."
Said an unnamed U.S. official: "We're closer now than we've ever been to achieving peace ... Serbia is weary of the sanctions. NATO's willingness to act has changed the dynamics, and Russia is playing a constructive role. But the fact that we're closer than before to peace doesn't mean we're going to get it."
The agreement to intervene to halt the war in Bosnia represents fulfillment of a devil's bargain between the U.S. and France to end two-and-a-half years of fighting among the six republics and two autonomous areas comprising the former Yugoslavia.
It began in June 1991 when the Yugoslav army sought to keep two republics ' Slovenia and Croatia, from declaring their independence. After six months of fighting, the U.N. sponsored a Jan 1992 cease-fire that left Croatia and Slovenia independent, but Serbia and Montenegro, as the joint successors to Yugoslavia, in possession of the autonomous regions of Vukovar and Kosovo, and one third of Croatia.
The Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose population was 44 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serb, and 17 percent Croat, with a sprinkling of Jews, Gypsies, Hungarians and other minorities, declared its independence on Feb. 29, 1992. This was one day after a referendum approved its multi-sectarian government, with a rotating presidency and all three major sectarian groups represented in the military command and in all government ministries.
Serbia, meanwhile, organized the 80,000 Bosnian Serb regulars in the former Yugoslav army into separate units equipped with heavy artillery and put the former Yugoslav air force at their disposal. These Serb units launched a rebellion/invasion in Bosnia on April 6, 1992, the day the European Community recognized Bosnia, followed one day later by U.S. recognition of Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia.
On May 22, the three republics were admitted to the United Nations. Five days later, a Serb mortar shell landed beside a breadline within Bosnia's capital of Sarajevo, killing 16 people.
The U.N. Security Council, which had previously embargoed arms shipments to any part of the former Yugoslavia in an effort to keep the fighting from spreading, imposed an embargo on all commerce, petroleum deliveries and commercial airline traffic to and from Serbia and Montenegro on May 30. On June 8 it sent 1,000 peacekeepers to protect Sarajevo airport.
Although it was an election year, President George Bush began to sound out support in Europe for international air strikes to halt the Serb invasion of Bosnia, but was rebuffed. After the State Department confirmed on Aug. 3 that concentration camps for civilians had been set up in Serb-occupied areas, and the media reported large-scale massacres of Muslim male prisoners and systematic rape and murder of Muslim women in these camps, Bush was reproached by presidential candidate Clinton for not halting the slaughter.
Four months after Clinton took office, he sent Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Europe in May 1993 to sound out American NATO allies about lifting the arms embargo, which was keeping the Muslim-led Bosnian government from getting the arms it needed to defend its borders, and joint military action to halt what increasingly was being depicted in the media as genocide. Britain threatened to veto any attempt to lift the Security Council arms embargo. France opposed air strikes because they would put French, British, Canadian and other U.N. peacekeeping troops on the ground in danger of Serb reprisals. When the U.S. nevertheless voted for a U.N. resolution to lift the arms embargo, Britain, France, Russia and six other Security Council members abstained, killing the resolution.
By then, their rationale was that air strikes would encourage the Muslim-led Bosnian government to fight on, rather than accept an EC- and U.N.-brokered peace plan. The plan's first version, labeled the Vance-Owen plan, would have preserved Bosnia-Herzegovina as a loose federation by dividing it into 10 sectarian based cantons. It had been accepted by Muslims and Croats but rejected by the Serbs.
The next version would have broken the country into three sectarian-based areas, giving 49 percent of the territory to Bosnia's Serbs, 33.5 percent to the Muslim led government, and 17.5 percent to the Bosnian Croats. This was rejected by the Bosnian government on grounds that it confined the Muslims to a scattering of landlocked, economically nonviable enclaves.
Initial resistance to the 1992 Serb invasion of Bosnia had been largely provided by the HVO Bosnian Croat militia, organized in response to the Serb-Croat fighting of 199 1. Muslim volunteers enlisted in the HVO, and a front line of hundreds of miles gradually stabilized. Serbs were unable to gain further ground, but their heavy artillery, tanks and aircraft inflicted a terrible toll on the defenders.
From the beginning of the fighting in Bosnia, there were rumors that Serbian nationalist President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian nationalist leader Tudjman, both holdovers from Yugoslav communist rule, were conspiring to divide Bosnia between them, leaving the Muslims to shift for themselves. Rumor became reality early in 1993. The HVO militia turned on the Bosnian government and imprisoned the Muslims within its ranks. HVO fighters who ' together with the Muslims, had fought off a Serb attack on Mostar, now besieged its Muslim inhabitants. The betrayal was reenacted in mixed areas throughout Bosnia.
By then, however, the Bosnian government had organized its own forces, which retained the multi-sectarian structure which left Muslims, Croats and some Serbs within its ranks. After terrible hardship throughout the fall and winter of 1993-1994, the tide began to turn. The Bosnian forces, with 200,000 men under arms, began taking back territory from the Croat militiamen, prompting the dispatch of whole units of the Croatian army to the fighting, and reports that special forces units of the Serb army were reinforcing Bosnian Serbs in the front lines.
The overt invasions from both Croatia and Serbia prompted renewed United Nations diplomatic activity. Members of the U.S. Congress began advocating that the United States by-pass the United Nations, arm the Bosnian forces directly, and mount unilateral air strikes from carriers and whatever bases could be used in Europe. Stepped up "ethnic cleansing" by Serbs in Muslim areas they had overrun increased the pressure. Finally the targeting by Serb gunners of Sarajevo bread and water distribution points where crowds gathered, and even sports fields an children at play, resulted in the killing 68 Sarajevans on Feb. 5 by a mortar shell that landed in the central market.
The NATO ultimatum that followed quieted the guns around Sarajevo on Feb. 2 1. A Croat-Bosnian government cease-fire followed two days later. That was followed by the federation agreement signed March 18. Unfortunately, the agreement gives the Bosnian Muslims no more territory than the Owen plan. By ensuring that Bosnian Croats do not secede, however, it keeps what remains of Muslim-led Bosnia economically viable.
Putting Bosnia Together Again
"While this rapprochement between Bosnia and Croatia is a necessary first move to ensure the survival of a Bosnian state, it must be followed by serious measures to force the Serbs to relinquish territory that they have taken by brute force."
—Former State Department official Marshall Freeman Harris, Christian Science Monitor,March 8, 1994
To get the Croat cooperation that made the Owen-Stoltenberg division of Bosnia acceptable to the Muslim-led Bosnian government, the U.S. offered the war weakened Republic of Croatia huge reconstruction loans, possible membership in the Partnership for Peace along with the Czech Republic, Poland and other would-be NATO members, and associate membership in the European Union.
Such carrots for Croatia, however, must be matched by sticks for the Serbs. After the ultimatum, NATO showed it was serious when two U.S. jets intercepted six Serb trainers converted to attack aircraft on a bombing mission, and shot down four of them. A subsequent call for an air strike against Bosnian Serbs firing on French U.N. peacekeeping troops came to nothing only because the order was delayed by the U.N. representative, who sought to warn the Serbs by telephone to stop shooting or come under fire. He was unable to reach them and by the time the strike was authorized, it was night and the Serbs had moved. Since there almost certainly will be future Serb provocations, unless the chain of command moves faster, they will become increasingly serious until the Serbs are too, are serious.
The stick may also have to be applied to Serbia itself, already hurting badly under the U.N. embargo.Serbia, and such neighbors as Hungary, Bulgaria and Macedonia, who also are suffering because of their dependence on trade with Serbia, will put pressure on the U.N., through Russia, for relief.
There must be no relief until Serbia pressures its Bosnian clients to withdraw from 20 percent of Bosnia in compliance with the current plan. If forced to do this, as they must be if the current settlement is to stick, Bosnian Serbs might even see advantages to returning to at least a loose confederation with Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
This would force a rewriting of the new Bosnian constitution, but it would have great political significance throughout Europe. It would represent a triumph of multiculturalism over narrow nationalism, at a time when other areas of Europe and the former Soviet Union are wrestling with the same choice.
Why Did the World Stand By?
"Why Bosnia has failed to move Americans more stirs considerable debate and despair among the small circle of intellectuals, artists and activists who have taken up the Bosnian cause... They wonder whether Americans would have responded differently if Christians or Jews, rather than Muslims, were under siege."
—Reporter Carla Anne Robbins, Wall Street Journal, March 18, 1994
The self-images of concerned Americans have been battered by two years of U.S. irresolution over Bosnia. Many American liberals, paralyzed by anti-militarist dogma and visions of another Vietnam quagmire, have been humiliated, or should be, by the reality that just the threat of air strikes stopped the slaughter in Sarajevo before a single U.S. aerial rocket or missile was fired.
Conservatives of the nativist variety look equally bad. Those who say that "nothing in Bosnia is worth one American life" should be asked some questions. Would preventing 200,000 more Bosnian deaths, and perhaps the deaths of another 200 U.N. peacekeepers, not to mention preservation of the multicultural regime that America stands for, not be worth the lives of 20, 50, or even 100 professional U.S. and NATO military personnel who might die in air attacks to make the Serbs back down?
If Americans have looked bad in Bosnia, Europeans look worse. Without minimizing the dangers and hardships suffered by U.N. peacekeepers, they should not have let themselves become hostages of the Serbs. Insistance that U.S.-led NATO air strikes would endanger European and Canadian troops on the ground was correct.
The Bosnians, however, asked the U.N to give them arms to defend themselves, withdraw the peacekeepers and then, if possible, provide air support as they fought their own battles. The U.S. should have done it, unilaterally if necessary, as suggested by some congressmen.
And Americans should acknowledge that there is much validity in the Bosnian view that European objections for the most part were bigoted attempts to keep the lid on the Bosnian war, so long as most of the 200,000 people being slaughtered were Muslims, rather than Serbs, who have partisans in Britain and France, or Croat who have partisans in Germany, Austria and Italy.
What else Bosnians think was eloquently presented in the March 9 Washington Post by correspondent James Rupert, who interviewed relatives of slain 38-year-old Jadranka Minic, whose mother was quoted at the beginning of this article.
... It is so senseless,' said Slobodan Minic, 44, Jadranka's brother. 'The only thing that moved the world is that 68 people died together—such a large number' . . .'We were abandoned,' said Jovo Jovanovic, Jadranka Minic's widower. 'From the beginning, the world community said it was wrong to shell the city, and it said who the aggressors were, It wasn't that they didn't see. They didn't act'. . .
"Jadranka Minic, a lawyer, 'had a lot of trouble in having a child,' her mother said, 'so she had a special relationship with her boy.' When the mortar shell exploded in the market, [six-year-old] Igor 'came running and said, "Grandma, we have to find Mama, " and dragged me down to the market ... People said, don't look, don't take a child in there, but Igor pulled me ... From that day, he doesn't speak about his mother ... He goes each day to another family, to play with their children. At home, he doesn't speak, he just goes to bed'. . .
"The family's sense of abandonment by the outside world comes not just from Jadranka's death but because, as a mixed family of Serbs, Muslims and Croats, they feel they embody what the West-and especially America-stands for. America is a mixed, tolerant society, 'just as Sarajevo was and our family is,' Slobodan said. 'We expected them to understand us. "'
As the U.S. works within the United Nations to put this battered society together again, there still is time to demonstrate that Americans do understand. The world, especially the Muslim world, which felt a special kinship with uniquely tolerant Bosnia, will be watching.
Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report.
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