Declare and Enforce `Safe Havens' in Bosnia

Plans for military intervention cannot ignore collateral damage and must consider efforts of local peace groups

WHILE diplomats debate the Vance-Owen peace plan and the number of bombs to be dropped to end the atrocity in the Balkans, who is asking about the impact of those bombs on the civilian population? Are options being considered that are likely to assist the people most in need, to prevent the unnecessary loss of civilian lives and promote lasting peace?

The seeming urgency of military intervention is prompted by concern over how to assist Bosnian civilians subjected to the genocidal policies of the Serbs. But certainly the international community should consider the impact of intervention on all innocent civilians. The record of the United States demonstrates the harm that results when such concerns are downplayed or ignored.

In the 1991 Gulf war, often lauded as an exemplar of multilateral action to protect a people subjected to genocidal actions, thousands of civilians living in Iraq were killed as a result of air strikes. One Iraqi professor, Mohammad Khader, lost his wife and four daughters in the bombing of a Baghdad civilian shelter. He waits in vain for some action by the international community to compensate or even acknowledge responsibility for his loss.

Another example of "collateral damage" are the Farhats, a Lebanese family who, after Iraq was expelled from Kuwait, were brutally attacked by the Kuwaiti military. In the aftermath of the war fought on its behalf, the newly restored Kuwaiti emirate unleashed a campaign of terror, chiefly against non-Kuwaitis, adding thousands of victims to the toll inflicted by the war.

Days after the war, a Kuwaiti resistance fighter raped Naimat Farhat, shot her in the head and murdered her father and brother. Efforts to secure justice from the Kuwaiti government and the international community have, more than two years after the atrocities, gone unfulfilled.

One potential model of action to end the slaughter and minimize the number of innocent civilian deaths inflicted while "saving" the Bosnians could be the nonsectarian "safe havens" proposed by the New York Citizens Committee on Bosnia-Herzegovina. This proposal requires the Security Council to authorize the secretary-general to declare the areas in most danger as "safe havens." Unlike the current United Nations "safe havens," this action would have to be enforced. A multilateral UN force should be author ized to demilitarize the area, disarm the populations, lead to safety noncombatants on all sides of the conflict, use appropriate force to defend themselves and their charges, and carry out the Security Council's mandate.

Instead of having the abstract purpose of "rolling back the Serbs" by tactics such as "strategic air strikes," safe havens would have the immediate impact of protecting innocent victims of the war. Similarly, this proposal could provide direct assistance, unlike the proposal to arm the Bosnians by lifting the arms embargo. Even if arms were to reach the Bosnians, lifting the embargo would run the risk of escalating the conflict by drawing neighboring countries into the war.

A UN safe havens force could also lead to political solutions. Such a force would preserve the multiethnic character of the republics and offer immediate security and reliable humanitarian relief to trapped populations. It would also give the international community an opportunity to work with and support the efforts of Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs working for peace.

The republics of the former Yugoslavia are far from monolithic. A New York-based women's coalition against war crimes in the former Yugoslavia has been in contact with groups such as "Women in Black," a coalition of Serbian women in Belgrade, and the "Independent Alliance of Women in Croatia." The Center for Antiwar Action in Belgrade has also been working for the enforcement of humanitarian law. These are just a few examples of groups working for peace. Has the UN contacted these dissident groups? Have efforts been made to strengthen them?

Any intervention plan by the UN must consider civilian casualties, the means to compensate those hurt, and ways to help citizens working for peace. American citizens should not allow our government to sit idly while Bosnians are massacred. But we must not tolerate another case where bombs are used against people in order to "save" them - while our government walks away from the devastation left behind.

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