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Don't Prolong the Bloodshed in Bosnia

By Jimmy Carter

Recently we have seen an escalation of violence and human rights abuses in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with bombing, the taking of United Nations peacekeepers as hostages, and renewed military conflict. This sharply constrains humanitarian and peace efforts, and compels the making of early decisions, no matter how difficult.

If the international community is to remain involved, a firm choice must be made between two basic alternatives: the escalation of military conflict or a determined attempt to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement.

In addition to the complex issues that have long divided the political, religious, and ethnic groups in the Balkans, the lack of clear interrelationships among international peacemakers and military forces is confusing and perhaps counterproductive. Beginning in 1992, the European Community and the United Nations each have had a representative working as a team to devise a peace agreement for the area.

In April 1994 a five-nation Contact Group composed of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Russia assumed most of this responsibility. At the same time, there is an uncomfortable sharing of military duties between the United Nations Protective Force (UNPROFOR) and NATO.

Frustrated with the impasse in Bosnia-Herzegovina, some political leaders are demanding a unilateral lifting of the arms embargo by the United States to permit the Muslim-Croat federation to expand and modernize its military force. Under these circumstances, the United Nations military commanders have stated that UNPROFOR could not fulfill its mission, and the leaders of both France and Great Britain have said that their troops will be withdrawn. The extraction of U.N. forces would have the same effect as ending the arms embargo.

In either case, there would be an escalation of bloodshed in Bosnia, and much greater U.S. involvement in both military training and support would likely result. If either the Bosnian Serbs or the Muslim-Croat federation were then threatened with defeat, the war could widen to include their supporters in Croatia and Serbia, and then spread southward to Kosovo and Macedonia. Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria might become involved in the ensuing conflict.

NATO nations would confront a terrible containment dilemma, making present problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina seem relatively insignificant.

With an almost hopeless prospect for ending the crisis through military means, it is time to reassess possibilities for a mediated settlement of basic issues. What should be the prerequisites for such direct negotiations?

If the convening of comprehensive peace talks without preconditions is not acceptable to the Contact Group, I believe a clear demonstration of good faith by both sides should be adequate. Proven commitments of a practical nature can be required, such as those accepted last December by the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia:

  • a cessation of hostilities and disengagement of armed forces,
  • freedom of movement of U.N. peacekeepers,
  • unrestricted movement of United Nations convoys to deliver relief supplies to Sarajevo and other safe havens,
  • the Sarajevo airport open to United Nations flights,
  • the release of all detainees,
  • human rights guarantees, including unrestricted return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes.

As agreed at the time, there would be balanced and equal treatment of the two sides while they negotiate together.

The general policy of the Contact Group has been to isolate the Bosnian Serbs and to communicate only with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on matters involving the Bosnian Serbs. This effort has not been fruitful, and its prospects for bringing peace to Bosnia are dim even in the unlikely event that Milosevic decides to cooperate. The Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs must be direct participants in any peace process.

Both last year and now, there has been only one unresolved issue: Muslim/Croat officials insist that, as a prerequisite to peace talks, the Serbs, who now control 70% of Bosnia, would have to accept the plan to reduce their territory to 49%; the Serbs, on the other hand, have been willing to negotiate "on the basis of" the same plan.

The Bosnian Serbs have presented a counterproposal to me and to the Contact Group, offering to reduce their controlled area to 53% and professing their willingness to negotiate the remaining differences.

Peace talks would best be held in a neutral place under the auspices of the Contact Group, and with a specific deadline for completion. Both sides, the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs, must be at the negotiating table. This period of peace might also include the suspension of United Nations trade sanctions against the Serbs as long as Serbia and the Bosnian groups act in good faith. This would be a powerful incentive for compliance.

The agenda might include such constitutional issues as the degree of autonomy of the Muslim/Croat and Serbian groups, mutually agreeable territorial divisions based on the 51/49 proposal of the Contact Group, and the right to form special relationships between the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and their neighbors in Serbia and Croatia.

All those interested in peace, including the government of the United States, should support this effort for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

The pursuit of a peace strategy would not excuse or condone any of the human rights abuses, violations of cease-fires, taking of hostages, or failure to comply with United Nations resolutions by any of the combatants in the area. These deplorable actions are universally condemned, but the primary task now is the establishment of a lasting peace and the prevention of further abuses.

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