Bosnian Leader Pleads With West: 'Let Us Defend Ourselves'

In an interview, Bosnia's prime minister argues that lifting the arms embargo on his country is the only solution now; a British diplomat explains why his government opposes it

BETWEEN the 100-day frenzy on Capitol Hill and the O. J. Simpson trial, little attention was paid to a recent visit of Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. Mr. Silajdzic testified before Congress that 600,000 people are besieged in the ''safe areas'' of Zepa, Gorazde, Bihac, Sarajevo, Tuzla, and Srebrenica -- and lobbied for a lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia.

The trip came as the cease-fire negotiated by former US President Jimmy Carter is breaking; the prime minister requested that Mr. Carter not return to Sarajevo. A bipartisan effort in Congress to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia is opposed by the White House.

Silajdzic met with Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Senate majority leader Bob Dole, and others. He also spoke to a Monitor staffer.

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The five-nation contact group has been dealing with Bosnia for a year now. How has it done?

Diplomacy must be placed either on the authority of the principle of justice, or the authority of sheer force. The contact group has neither justice, nor force.

Why should the arms embargo be lifted on Bosnia?

The contact group said in Geneva on the 30th of July that the multilateral lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia was a last resort if the Serbs said no to the contact group peace plan. It is an illegal arms embargo. If the allies continue to resist lifting the arms embargo, the US government should lift it unilaterally.

What will you do if the embargo is not lifted?

What can we do? All we can do is resist and fight on. We have done what we can diplomatically. We said yes to an essentially unjust plan, the contact-group plan. Even the Serbs did what they were supposed to do. They were given a deadline, and they answered. They said no. The ball is now in the court of the international community. It should decide to stop genocide in Bosnia.

The White House is lobbying hard to stop efforts in Congress to lift the embargo.

I must ask, what plan do they have? Are they ready to intervene militarily? If they are not, then the only thing to do is lift the embargo. Let us defend ourselves.

The outgoing UN commander, Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, argues that arms for Bosnia would widen the war.

Not lifting the arms embargo for three years is long enough to prove, not hypothetically, but on the ground, that the result is a one-sided killing. If you would like to see more innocent people killed by armed thugs, then that is fine. Don't lift. The problem is, we already have an actual war, we have an actual catastrophe, and we have an actual arms embargo. Three years is long enough to show this therapy isn't working.

Some say that lifting the embargo will cause the Serbs to overrun Bosnia. If Serbs could do that, they would do it now. They would not wait for the arms embargo to be lifted. What's holding them now, restraining them, is not their good will. It's us.

Whatever the objection is, valid or not valid, let's talk about the first thing -- your right to take away our right of self defense.

Do you need military help beyond lifting the embargo?

Airstrikes are needed to protect the enclaves.

The enclaves are surrounded. There is talk that you must lose them.

We aren't prepared to lose anything. That's why we've died.

Some officials say that is unrealistic.

The approach of Realpolitik has proven a very wrong concept in Bosnia. It does not take into account small things like spiritual determination. That's how we live. This has been very confusing to the international community. By the accepted standards of realism, we should have been gone or eliminated a long time ago, wept over and done with.

How have you survived?

Because of a factor that is powerful, though it is rarely included in the equations of Realpolitik. It is a spirit of defiance. That is an important factor, just as it is with any illness. If you give up, you are gone. If you fight, you can get strong.

Last spring the United States helped negotiate a federation between Croats and Muslims in Bosnia that significantly reduced the fighting. How is it doing?

The federation is not going well. We hope for help from the friends of Bosnia, including the American government, to improve the situation. The federation is the centerpiece, utterly essential, for peace not only in Yugoslavia, but in the whole region. The federation is where everything comes together right now, it is holding together what stability there is.

Many Croats oppose lifting the arms embargo since they feel heavy weapons may be used against them later.

Those are Croats who don't understand the situation and should not be in politics. By having arms, we stop Serbs. That is good for Croats. Croats in the federation who obstruct our acquiring of arms should be replaced.

British and French officials suggest new talks making the current plan a starting point.

We cannot accept that. At this point, it is take it or leave it.

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