Proceed With War-Crimes Probe

TWO initiatives for Western action on the Yugoslav crisis have emerged in the past week. The United Nations Security Council unanimously resolved to establish the first war-crimes commission since the Nuremberg trials in 1945 to gather evidence of atrocities in Bosnia. And the White House, against the Pentagon's advice, has proposed a "no fly" zone over Bosnia that would ground the Serbian air force.

Neither measure will immediately relieve millions of Muslim civilian victims in Bosnia facing a winter without oil and food. More help is needed. But if pursued with alacrity, these steps may show Belgrade that its ongoing campaign of destruction and "ethnic cleansing" will not go unpunished.

Section 5 in the UN war-crimes resolution is the shortest but most important: "DECIDES to remain actively seized of the matter." There should be no delays. The UN resolution does not set up a tribunal to try those accused of crimes; it only authorizes the gathering of evidence. But given the evidence already known, a tribunal must eventually be formed. Former Polish President Tadeusz Mazowiecki visited Bosnia for the UN and catalogued crimes. The State Department submitted reports that detailed the massa cre of 3,000 Muslims and recounted 50 separate atrocities.

This is a fraction of the evidence. Between April and August, knowledgeable sources say, some 500 to 1,000 instances of atrocity were cabled to Washington. The State Department has not adequately explained why it withheld knowledge of Serb-run concentration camps in June and July. It should now be fully forthcoming on war crimes.

With the war still raging and the accused at large, there is little the UN can do immediately. What affect would accusations of war crimes have on negotiations? Can one, morally, negotiate with parties or individuals accused of war crimes?

Yet along with a no-fly zone, action on war crimes must proceed. Neo-barbarism must end - for the sake of its victims, and future generations.

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