The Shame of Sarajevo

SARAJEVO is a mirror. Battered and bloodied by three years of siege, the cosmopolitan city of art and culture and the Olympics has been a sad symbol of the norms the West will accept in this era. Last year, in a rare but healthy moment of revulsion, NATO put its foot down and stopped the Serb shelling of Bosnia's capital -- after a week when 700 shells a day ended in the marketplace massacre. NATO resolve rocked the Serbs. They withdrew heavy weapons and stopped shelling. Optimists even talked of rebuilding the city.

Yet despite the warnings of many, the United Nations, led in Sarajevo by the French and in Bosnia overall by the British, squandered NATO's leverage -- letting the Serbs bully them. Now they do what they are told.

Today Sarajevo is again under siege -- cut off, shelled, its airport in the clutches of Bosnian Serbs and its only road the target of weapons outlawed by the NATO exclusion zone. Eleven civilians were killed Sunday by a Serb mortar. To his credit, the spokesman for the UN's solar-powered mission in Bosnia, Alexander Ivanko, said the Serbs were now ''getting away with murder.'' Mr. Ivanko rightly feels that if he can do nothing else, he can at least tell the truth.

Where is the West? As usual in Bosnia, it is hiding behind a thicket of UN bureaucrats. The new UN military commander in Bosnia called for NATO airstrikes when the Serbs began shelling. But Yasushi Akashi, his civilian counterpart, overruled him. Mr. Akashi feels airstrikes might ''endanger'' the ''sensitive'' negotiations he is conducting with Serbs who occupy another UN member state, Croatia. He does not want to seem ''partial.''

NATO's hands are tied and the murder of the innocent is allowed so that negotiations that have never led anywhere can continue. These tactics are not new. For 36 months, diplomats have blocked efforts to help Bosnia, always claiming negotiations might be harmed. Last spring, the Bosnians were denied arms because it might ''upset'' the contact group plan -- which the Serbs later trashed.

UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright called for airstrikes. But these tough words mean little unless the White House actually works to honor the NATO ultimatum.

Sniping at grandmothers in the streets is not war. It is murder.

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