Worse Than Munich

UNITY among allies and peace in Europe are greatly desired after three years of war in the former Yugoslavia. But they cannot be bought at the cost of basic principles. That, however, is the asking price in Geneva this week as the parties sit down to negotiate a new French and German ``peace plan'' for Bosnia.

Under the proposal, Bosnian Serbs give the now mainly Muslim government of Bosnia 3 percent more land, including a corridor to the sea. In return, Bosnian Serbs and Croats may join captured Bosnian lands to Serbia and Croatia proper. The main deal, however, is that the international community agrees to lift sanctions on the Milosevic regime in Belgrade in exchange for peace.

For the United States and Europe to sign off on this plan means Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia, has won Round 2 in the former Yugoslavia. He won Round 1 in Croatia in 1991; if sanctions are lifted on Belgrade, Mr. Milosevic will have a stunning victory in Bosnia in 1993. Consider: Milosevic has kept the Balkans at war for three years, seized territory in one state and dismembered another, conducted a mass murder of civilians on the basis of ethnicity, looted and burned villages, blocked food and supplies for needy people, created millions of refugees, and divided Europe. After all this, the Franco-German plan would remove the only punishment the world community has ever exacted on three years of Serb-led war crimes, sorrow, and chaos. That is stunning. In moral terms, not even Neville Chamberlain's Munich agreement was so warped.

Nor is it certain the Serbs, who have broken many agreements, will finally cede land they can later retake.

The Europeans say the plan is the only option. There is a limited truth to this. Serbs have largely won the war. The winter will be rough. The idea of a multiethnic Bosnia is in tatters. Since the Europeans oppose military aid or force on behalf of Bosnia, why raise principles of law and justice when there is no resolve to back them up? People are suffering. Why not go with the plan?

The White House has had ``problems'' with the Franco-German plan. But President Clinton's main desire is to avoid a rift with Europe and ensure that Bosnia not harm his presidency. He has already expressed solidarity with Europe's proposals, subject to ``safeguards'' that the Serbs have proven expert at trashing.

US plans to arm the Bosnians or conduct airstrikes to stop the shelling of Sarajevo seem dead. For the US to agree with the Franco-German plan may buy temporary unity and peace. But the price is silence about genocide and abdication of moral leadership. At a minimum, Clinton should rebuke the evils of appeasement.

Finally, lifting sanctions clears the way for Round 3; Kosovo may be next.

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