Islamic Nations Urge UN to Exempt Bosnia From Arms Embargo

SEEKING to build unity among Islamic nations ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly at the end of the month, foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) ended a three-day snap meeting here with a call for the United Nations to lift the arms embargo from the Bosnian Muslims.

The Sept. 7 to 9 conference, hurriedly organized three weeks ago by Pakistan, which presently holds the rotating OIC chairmanship, also focused on the conflict in Afghanistan and human-rights violations in the disputed province of Kashmir.

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto set the tone for the meeting in her opening remarks to the group, a multilateral organization of Islamic countries whose purpose is to promote Islamic solidarity and further cooperation among member states, by urging fellow Muslims to unite in resolving the difficult issues currently facing Islamic countries. ``The Islamic world is weak and divided. Many of us are locked in disputes with each other.''

Reflecting that appeal in a final, strongly worded communique at the end of the conference, the 51-member organization urged the UN to exempt the Bosnian government from the arms embargo. It asked the Security Council to ``confirm'' that its arms ban on the former Yugoslavia did not apply to Bosnia. ``If no Security Council resolution is forthcoming, the OIC membership, along with other UN members, will come to the conclusion that members acting individually or collectively can provide the means of self-defense to the government of the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina,'' the resolution said.

Some diplomats at the conference privately said that their countries may wait until the end of the year before considering plans to provide support to Bosnia. That would allow members to garner and build international opinion and support in favor of lifting the embargo by the end of the UN General Assembly session in December.

The OIC's call was forcefully backed by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who urged members to use the upcoming General Assembly session in New York to convey the message that ``enough is enough'' on the arms embargo.

On the issue of Afghanistan, the OIC agreed to continue their peacemaking efforts, agreeing to establish a ``contact group'' on Kashmir, which would try to resolve the ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan. The two have fought three wars since their independence in 1947 over the status of the Muslim-majority state.

Despite the strong statements of support that followed Ms. Bhutto's call, there were few conclusive signs to suggest that the organization was about to change what some diplomats privately describe as its inability to achieve unity among Islamic governments.

Pakistani officials and some conference delegates conceded privately that the Bosnian resolution was the only ``concrete'' item that came out of the conference, even though its importance was only symbolic. ``On Bosnia, at least there's a strong message. Eventually this helps to allow some of our members to start giving assistance to Bosnia for self-defense'' said one conference delegate requesting anonymity.

Some conference officials, however, pointed out that behind the talk of greater unity, the Muslim world continued to be afflicted with discord, partly due to their wide diversity of interests. One official said: ``With this diversity, progress on achieving greater unity may be hard.'' But, ``any progress is also an important achievement as it's a movement in the right direction.''

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