Bosnia: a Way Forward

FIVE Bangladeshis, part of the United Nations ``peacekeeping'' force in Bosnia and traveling in a white-painted, clearly marked UN vehicle, were deliberately attacked by Bosnian Serbs earlier this week. All five were wounded. One, Mohamed Ismail, died during a nine-hour trip by land to a hospital after the Bosnian Serb forces refused to let him be transported out quickly by helicopter.

The growing Bosnian Serb disregard for the role of UN ``peacekeepers'' has made the current situation in Bosnia untenable. It is well that United States troops are not on the ground there. The American people would be outraged and demand immediate and decisive action. We mourn the loss of the Bangladeshi; it is not fair that the often heroic efforts of UN troops are marred by a flawed plan.

The chief alternative to the impossible status quo - the pull-out-and-bomb talk of Sen. Bob Dole and others - is widely seen as too perilous. It could lead to a widening of the war and commitment to massive use of NATO ground troops, including those of the US, in the view of Secretary of State Warren Christopher and others.

Now French Foreign Minister Francois Leotard has stepped in with a new idea. The French have standing to speak out and to lead on Bosnia. They have 4,500 troops there; more than 400 have been wounded and 22 killed.

Mr. Leotard proposes creating a ground corridor from the Adriatic to Sarajevo for delivering aid. It would be protected by UN troops equipped with much more firepower. The Sarajevo airport would be secured. The UN force would be enlarged and reconfigured into more defensible positions. It would be allowed more-aggressive rules of engagement.

Under these conditions, the UN could play a useful role instead of simply supplying more human targets for the Bosnian Serbs. Aid could reach the needy. ``Safe area'' might lose its absurdity as Orwellian newspeak.

The options are not the false choice of diplomacy or war: The decision should be how much military ``muscle'' must back diplomatic efforts to gain the Bosnian Serbs' attention. Experience to date suggests quite a lot.

President Clinton speaks to the nation tonight. Will he begin to tell the American people what's at stake in Bosnia and why America must care? To leave unchallenged the idea that ``nothing can be done'' about ethnic cleansing and other human suffering in Bosnia risks growing a moral callus over the American soul.

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