Bosnian Army Chief Presses Case for Lifting Embargo

General cites violations of blockade on Bosnian Serbs

WITH renewed ``ethnic cleansing'' in Bosnia-Herzegovina and an Oct. 15 deadline on the White House to ask the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia, Gen. Rasim Delic, head of the Bosnian Army, pressed his case for weapons for the first time in Washington last week.

General Delic told reporters that any lifting of the arms embargo must be coordinated with full-scale NATO airstrikes on Serb forces if they attack, since the United Nations has disarmed and left defenseless many Bosnian towns.

Delic also called ``a farce'' the recent sanctions imposed by the Milosevic regime in Belgrade against compatriots in Bosnia, part of an agreement to get economic sanctions lifted against Serbia. Delic said the sanctions are violated in four locations along the Drina River border. He said Bosnian Serb officers are paid by the Yugoslav Army in Belgrade, and called ``malicious'' a new British military report suggesting that the Bosnian Army is not ready to use anti-tank weapons to defend itself.

Delic visited Pentagon officials and Capitol Hill during a pivotal month in US policy on Bosnia. Congress is raising pressure to lift the UN arms embargo on the Bosnian government. Meanwhile in Europe, the ``contact group'' nations are working in the opposite direction - to lift economic sanctions on Serbia if Belgrade enforces an embargo against Bosnian Serbs who have conducted ethnic cleansing in Bosnia since 1992, including forced evacuations of 2,000 Muslims last weekend in northeast Bosnia.

The Clinton administration has to decide which path to follow. The president vowed to press the Security Council to lift the embargo if Serbs in Bosnia have not signed a peace plan by Oct. 15 to divide the country in half. But diplomats say that British, French, and Russian efforts to make Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic a partner in the peace process rules out arming the Bosnians since he would face domestic political pressure.

In a Monitor interview, Delic said Belgrade's sanctions against Bosnian Serbs ``is a farce, a show. They are done for TV coverage and to give the international community a reason to do nothing. I have given military officials of many countries, including the US, evidence of two new pontoon bridges across the Drina south of Zvornik, as well as of two new roads from Montenegro that are sending in troops and material daily.''

Delic added that, ``The key to war and peace is the control of the Bosnian borders. If the international community can control the Drina River, war in Bosnia would stop in a very short time.'' A little reported fact bearing on the embargo, Delic says, is that ``Serb officers on the Bosnian side are still appointed by the Yugoslav Army chief of staff in Belgrade, military planning is still done by the Yugoslav Army staff, and soldiers and officers are still paid by the Yugoslav Army in Belgrade.''

The commander's visit took place amid controversy. Delic's first request for a military visit was blocked by the State Department, but he finally entered the US under a USIA visa. The trip was approved after a widely criticized meeting between Lt. Gen. Wesley Clarke, Joint Chiefs of Staff planning director and a friend of President Clinton, and Bosnian Serb Army Gen. Ratko Mladich, who has been accused of war crimes. The August meeting took place despite two State Department warnings to Clarke's aides, and became an embarrassment after reports showed that Clarke and Mladich swapped hats, and Clarke accepted gifts of liquor and an engraved pistol from Mladich.

Clarke also met with Delic on his fact-finding trip to Bosnia, and the Bosnian commander was eager to play down the flap. He focussed on his need of heavy weapons, ``We need long range weapons to push the tanks away from the urban centers and reduce civilian casualties.'' He reiterated Bosnia's right to self-defense under international law, noting that Serbs were receiving weapons from the Yugoslav Army. When asked if he hoped to retake all of Bosnia, Delic offered an indirect yes, saying ``it is the responsibility of our Army to defend the territorial integrity of the republic. Our goal is to liberate Bosnia of all fascist cliques represented by Radovan Karadzic.''

Delic stated the arms embargo can't be lifted without a NATO commitment to air support. ``The effective control of the international community of the [UN] safe zones has to remain. They took that responsibility, and took away our weaponry from those cities.''

A recent British military report critical of the Bosnian Army, released as British Foreign Minister Whitehall opposed arms for Bosnia, angered Delic. That his forces can't handle sophisticated weapons, Delic counters, ``The principle of these weapons, their use, is similar to current weaponry. We just want to use the weapons, not build them.'' On the charge that his Army lacks a long-term strategy, Delic noted: ``We managed to defend ourselves from the fourth strongest Army in Europe for 28 months. Yugoslav Army planners thought we would lose in weeks.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.