MISSING OUT CORE POINTS ON BOSNIA
New Straits Times, p.10
18 February 1994.
By Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie
When I glanced through the newspapers and listened to the radio or watched the television I cannot help feeling that wittingly or otherwise the world is led to sniff at the red herring. We seem to hear the debate that the Bosnia problem is a European affair and there were times when we are made to believe that what is happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a civil war.
During the latest bombing in the market square there was even the preposterous suggestion that the mortar bomb came from the Bosniaks themselves.
The story in history is quite straightforward. There was a country called Yugoslavia and in 1987 its leader by the name of Slobodan Milosevic engineered a Serbian ethnocentrism directed against non-Serbians of Yugoslav federation by claiming that Tito had made the mistake of placing many Serbs outside the Serbian republic which was one of the members of the Federation.
He wanted an authoritarian centralised Yugoslavia and the elimination of the vestiges of federalism. One of Milosevic’s move was to abolish the autonomous status of the two members of the Federation, namely Kosovo and Vojvodina. This was done ostensibly to protect the interest of the Serbs in these two autonomous States.
Soon it became obvious to the other members of the Federation like Slovenia and Croatia that life in a Yugoslavia dominated by the authoritarian Milosevic was no longer possible. The year 1990 saw Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, all autonomous States in the Yugoslav Federation, rejecting the communist parties; non-communist democratic nationalist coalitions emerged victorious. Milosevic from Belgrade sent his henchmen to resist the trend by using all Federal apparatus and mass media.
Since there was no likelihood of reverting to the Tito era or re-ordered Yugoslav confederation, in December 1990 Slovenia took the fateful step of holding a plebiscite in which nearly all the eligible voters authorised the Slovenian Parliament to declare independence, if a satisfactory arrangement was not possible within six months.
In June 1991 Croatia declared independence after Milosevic and his cohorts blocked the appointment of a Croat, Stipe Mesic, as the chairman of the federal presidency which, according to the post-Tito arrangement, was to pass each year to the representative of a republic chosen by the Parliament of that republic. It was Croatia’s turn. But Milosevic did no favour the appointment.
At that stage, Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosniak people began to fear that they would be left at the mercy of Milosevic. He suggested the formation of a looser federation or union of sovereign Yugoslav State which was rejected by Milosevic who, sensing a break-up of Yugoslavia, began to restructure the Yugoslav army and packed them with Serbs.
The United States as represented by her Secretary of State, James Baker, together with Britain and France publicly suggested a unified Yugoslavia and opposed any move for any State to declare independence, and this attitude encouraged Milosevic even more. Germany, on the other hand, suggested the independence of Croatia and Slovenia and was against military intervention by Milosevic from Belgrade.
By March 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence and sought diplomatic recognition from the United Nations and the members of the European Community. The European Community and the United Nations recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina in April 1992. Milosevic began to send men, weapons, jet fighter planes, fighter bombers and attack helicopters to the local Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic. Military prisoners captured had on them documentation showing that they were born in Serbia of Belgrade. That was an act of aggression against another member of the UN.
Yugoslavia had ceased to exist when the European Community and the United Nations agreed to recognise the independence of those former Yugoslav republics. Bosnia-Herzegovina had met the rigorous human rights criteria set by the European Community as a condition for recognition.
On May 31, 1992, the UN imposed economic sanctions on Belgrade singling out the former Yugoslavia now reduced to Serbia and Montenegro as the aggressor in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is the point which our mass media failed to notice and simply repeated what some agencies would wish to convey that the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is only a local affair.
Of late, there were reports of Croatian (Zagreb) armed forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Big weapons found by UN forces could not support that the fighting was of a guerilla kind.
What had complicated the issue was the original desire of the European Community that Yugoslavia should not break up and, thereupon, imposed on July 5, 1991 an arms embargo over the whole of the former Yugoslavia while units of the Yugoslav People’s Army, peopled mainly by Serbs, the biggest communist army in Eastern Europe next to Russia, were already attacking an independent Slovenia.
Sensing that the arms embargo of the European Community would be contrary to the Charter of UN since it was done without the sanction of the Security Council, Belgium, France and UK obtained the endorsement of the arms embargo from the Security Council in September 1991, thus the effect of the embargo had become world-wide on the ground that the fighting in “Yugoslavia” was causing heavy loss of human life and material damage.
It was a strange kind of arms embargo because it was done with the understanding that no military intervention was contemplated. There was, therefore, the intention that force would not be used while the embargo applied to the member republics.
When the Belgrade Serbian Army of the original Yugoslav People’s Army began their acts of genocides and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been independent and accepted as a member of the United Nations on 22 May, 1992, the Security Council by some strange twist of logic maintained the arms embargo, denying a member State of the UN the right of self-defence individually or collectively.
The arms embargo is in violation of the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina and an interference in the internal affairs of a member.
The one curious thing is that the arms embargo was imposed with the explicit consent of the authorities in Belgrade. The independent Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina did not give such a consent which, in my view, would render the arms embargo over Bosnia-Herzegovina as a violation of a right of a member of the UN.
The issue is not the question of attacking Serb positions by NATO air power which there is reluctance to do lest the war would be broadened to include Russian volunteers supporting the Serbs or Germany in support of Croatia. The issue is that the arms embargo should not apply to Bosnia-Herzegovina which is a member of the UN and now under attack by the rump Yugoslavia which is subject to economic sanctions since May 31, 1992 for being the aggressor in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The issue also is that Bosnia-Herzegovina should have the right as a member of the UN to self-defence including a collective arrangement. If Bosnia-Herzegovina is denied that sovereign right, then it is the responsibility of the Security Council to protect that sovereignty and to return all unlawful gains to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Serbs appear unwilling to accept a pacific settlement of whatever is the dispute. The Serbs are reluctant to surrender lands acquired through ethnic cleansing and even if there was an agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina to be country of three republics, it would be temporary and transitional in nature since the Serbs would wish to turn the illegally acquired land to be part of Greater Serbia unless there is no cessation undertaking. The Croats would follow suit.
Both the UN and EC should review their policies and not pursue the present line which would inevitably deprive Bosnia-Herzegovina of lands illegally acquired and without access to the outside world. Bosnia-Herzegovina would certainly face a slow death by constriction.
It would have been different if Bosnia-Herzegovina did not meet the human rights criteria set by the European Community. In this case, everyone knew it was Milosevic who wanted to return to the medieval ethnic nation galvanised by fascism. The punishment should be on him and his Serbian cohorts and not the peace-loving people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.