Peaceniks Questioning Air-Raid Strategy In Bosnia

Muslims say peaceful alternatives will aid cleansing

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 13-19, 1993

While Bosnian Muslims continue to demand either airstrikes against the Serbians or weapons to defend themselves, there is little consensus among Canadian peace groups and political parties that these measures are the key to a long-lasting peace.

The differences are as graphic as those between Washington and Ottawa. While president Bill Clinton is asking European nations to support air strikes, prime minister Brian Mulroney has publicly opposed such bombing raids as an answer to the brutal ethnic cleansing of Muslims being carried out by the Serbs.

“We are still developing our position in terms of support for military intervention,” says Roxanne Dube, assistant to Liberal foreign policy critic Lloyd Axworthy.

Dube says, “We need something more comprehensive than just airstrikes, which alone could jeopardize our troops.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson is more willing to consider military action under UN auspices. But first he wants “a vice-like embargo on Serbia and the establishment of safe havens and humanitarian corridors.

“If the slaughter continues, I personally would not exclude the posibility of further military action,” he says.

“The response of the United Nations, and NATO in particular, has been appallingly inadequate. It has allowed the Bosnian Serbs to consolidate their territorial position. And their latest sabotage of the Vance/Owen proposal has left the international community with no alternative but to isolate Serbia.

“The Bosnian Serbs are just continuing their widespread rape of Muslim women, ethnic cleansing, torture – the world has got to say, stop.”

Among peace groups there is a feeling that military intervention is not a longterm solution.

“We don’t have a position,” says Tamara Storic of Greenpeace Canada, a response echoed by the Toronto Disarmament Network. “We’re in much the same situation as the UN. Nobody knows what to do.”

No position

The Canadian Peace Alliance’s Gideon Forman understands the frustration that fuels calls for bombing, but doesn’t believe it is a longterm solution.

“Those who say go in there and bomb are not all crazy,” he says. “They hear about ethnic cleansing, they hear about rape camps – and they see bombing as a way to stop that. But our position is that a little more restraint has to be shown.”

He advocates a combination of sanctions and diplomacy for a longterm peaceful solution.

Maggie Helwig of ACT for Disarmament says she has little to offer in the short term, pointing out, “Maybe at this point there is little anyone can do.” She is also sympathetic to those who want to arm Bosnian Muslims, but feels it wouldn’t help the situation.

She says, “I believe they are the legitimate government. But providing weapons is not going to contribute to a lasting peace.”

Helwig favours targeted sanctions that would allow opposition organizations in Serbia to receive supplies while the government wouldn’t, combined with international support for peace and opposition groups.

“The only way we can end the Serbian aggression to to support the opposition in Serbia, the peace movement and the women’s movement. The reason they aren’t having much influence is that they aren’t getting any international support.”

Fatima Basic, spokesperson for the Canadian Bosnian refugee groups, says that while she supports Helwig’s plans for helping opposition and women’s groups, she is angry that it is being put out as an alternative to military intervention and air strikes. She says the West “should have done something before we lost half a million people.”

Imam Tajib Pasanbegovic, religious leader of Canadian Bosnian Muslims, says of Helwig’s thoughts, “It’s a ridiculous idea by itself. It will take several years, and by then there will be no Bosnian Muslims left. There is not time. Imagine if we gave this chance to Hitler in the second world war – another 5 million Jews would have disappeared.”

Both he and Basic are bitter that while Clinton seeks European support for bombing, “Prime minister Brian Mulroney is going behind his back telling the world not to interfere.”

Life embargo

Pasanbegovic says if the West will not intervene with at least half the bombing if did in the Gulf War, “They should life the arms embargo and return things to a starting point. If the West is not going to defend us, at least let us defend ourselves.”

However, Carolyn Langdon of Voice of Women, a peace group working with peace and women’s organizations in the former Yugoslav republics, says, “Our position is against intervention, including limited military strikes. We are supporting the civil society groups, the opposition against the nationalism and war policies of their governments.”

Her group sets up rape crisis centres and sponsors women to come to Canada to raise awareness.

David Isenverg, a senior research analyst at the left-leaning Washington-based Center for Defense Information, says sources tell him that the Clinton administration believes air strikes are only a means of levelling the playing field for the Muslims.

He says a Pentagon report released this Wednesday will discredit the claims of air strikes’ accuracy, citing failures during the Gulf War. Clinton will decide on air strikes after Saturday’s referendum in Bosnia, when Serbs will vote on whether to accept a Western peace plan.