1 MAY 1992, Page 5


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For those who have listened to the BBC news about Bosnia during recent weeks,

here is an easy puzzle. When is an insurrec- tion not an insurrection? When, is an inva- sion not an invasion? When is a govern- ment not a government? The answer in each case is: when it is a 'warring faction'.

The paralysis of judgment shown by the BBC's news editors is only one example of the more general paralysis of opinion and policy on this issue in the West. But it is certainly the most extreme example. If one listened only to the BBC, one would think that everything that happened in Bosnia was being caused by impersonal forces. When six UN relief lorries were hijacked by Serbian irregulars, the BBC reported: 'Efforts to bring aid to the refugees are being hampered by a breakdown in law and order.' This must be the first recorded instance in history of a lorry being driven away by a breakdown.

The only other authority who comes close to the BBC in his cult of the non-com- mittal is the EEC's special negotiator Lord Carrington. He announced last week, after Serbian forces had seized roughly two- thirds of Bosnia's land-mass: 'Everybody is to blame for what is happening in Bosnia and Hercegovina.' To which he added, even more astonishingly, 'and as soon as we get the ceasefire there will be no need to blame anybody'. Even the Foreign Office has never said anything quite so silly as that.

Behind these veils of obfuscation, the real nature of what has happened in Bosnia is quite simple. The essential points were stated in a public speech by the deputy leader of the ruling Socialist Party in Serbia seven months ago: he said a new Yugoslavia would be formed, consisting of Serbia, Montenegro and the self-styled 'autonomous Serbian regions' in Croatia and Bosnia. A tiny rump of Muslim Bosnia would be allowed to exist, but it would be almost surrounded by Serbian territory. What this plan involved, therefore, was not just the secession of several Serbian enclaves from Bosnia, but the re-drawing of the map in order to connect up those enclaves in a continuous swathe of territo- ry. This in turn required a combination of political chicanery and military force.

The chicanery was the easiest part, assist- ed as it was by the well-meaning but fateful stupidity of the EEC.

The ,Serbs in Bosnia proposed dividing the republic into three `cantons'; the Mus- lims and the Croats in Bosnia opposed this, partly because it was geographically non- sensical, and partly because it was so obvi- ously intended by the Serbs as a prelude to a more drastic separation. But the EEC foisted this 'solution' on the government of Bosnia, making it a condition of its recogni,. Lion of Bosnia as an independent state. And such is the pseudo-proprietary interest which the EEC has shown in Yugoslav affairs that the very existence of an inde- pendent Bosnia was made to seem like a favour that could emerge only from the EEC's back pocket.

It is likely, of course, that the Serbian plan to dismember Bosnia would have gone ahead sooner or later with or without the EEC's ham-fisted intervention. But it is clear that by publicising in advance a 'dead- line' for the recognition of the republic (6 April), and magnifying the importance of that decision, the EEC set up a very conve- nient tripwire for Serbian violence.

Imagine for a moment that the EEC did not exist: a few countries (Germany, Aus- tria) 'would have recognised Bosnia first, then' a few more (Holland, America), and rio single special starting-point for violence would have presented. itself. The first attempt at a Serbian coup in Sarajevo, after the referendum at the end of February, went off at half-cock, and other later attempts might equally have been ham- pered by the lack of a sufficiently dramatic excuse. The EEC's recognition remedied that lack.

Once the signal for violence was given, it was a simple matter to co-ordinate the efforts of Serbian guerrilla forces with the support and firepower of the Serbian-run army, to empty Muslim towns of their inhabitants and join up the Serbian areas on the map. Now the Serbs have the two things they needed: the concession in prin-

ciple that the Serbs of Bosnia should be treated as a separate political and geo- graphical unit, and the possession in brute fact of most of the land.

The next stage in the plan was realised last Sunday, when a new Serb-Montenegrin 'republic' was announced, with a constitu- tion which allows other territories to apply to join it. But this time the Serbian ruler, Mr Milosevic, may have been too clever by half. For in dropping the pretence that he is still maintaining the old federal Yugoslavia, he has placed the 'federal' army in limbo: it does not belong to his new republic, and the last shred of justification for its opera- tions in Bosnia has also been removed. If the EEC and the UN had any sense or gumption, they would now insist on putting that army (and especially its munitions and heavy armour) under UN control. But that is unlikely to happen so long as the EEC believes that the people who fire guns are no more to blame than the people whom they kill.