Turning the tide

November 02, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- SOMETHING astonishing happened last week. Bosnian forces -- which have been widely criticized as incapable and hapless against the Serbs who have been massacring them for three years -- began winning.

Journalists located 149 miles northwest of Sarajevo reported that not only did the Bosnian army sweep over an entire area held by the Serbs on the Grabez Plateau near Bihac, but it also sent more than 7,000 Bosnian Serb civilians and soldiers fleeing, leaving large numbers of abandoned weapons behind. In all, about 58 square miles of territory appear to have been captured from the Serbs, who in place of their usual rampaging are now retreating. The Serbs' command and control system was destroyed, and (unusual for them) they abandoned heaps of equipment.

The Associated Press reported it as a "stunning victory."

Moral human beings, having watched helplessly while the "mountain Serbs" raped, maimed and murdered more than 200,000 Bosnians and Croats in the war that they started in June 1991, might be expected to rejoice. At last, the victims were turning the tables.

But did the U.N. envoys on the spot (who, remember, are supposed to represent us, the people of the world) rejoice? Oh, well, you know how they are -- they just want everybody to stop fighting, just stop it.

And so, not surprisingly, Sergio De Mello, one of the top U.N. men in the former Yugoslavia, immediately weighed in with, "Any offensive is counterproductive . . . and certainly does not contribute to improve the lot of the civilian population."

(If only Ronald Reagan were on the scene to say, "There you go again!")

But before we start moralizing, let's consider the military and the political sides to what may well be a watershed moment in this war.

First, it appears that there has indeed been a real cutoff of supplies, and particularly fuel, from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He started the war by arming and inspiring the Serb militias, but apparently has now pulled back in order to have sanctions against Serbia lifted.

Second, the victorious Bosnian V Corps, which began as a ramshackle group of refugees from Western Bosnia, is now showing the results of what even minimal training and some weapons coming in from neighboring Croatia can do.

This moment of hope may yet be stillborn, not because of any lack of courage by the Bosnians or because of a change in the power equation, but because of the "good, humanitarian, don't fight" U.N. people there.

For "Don't fight!" is the overriding message of the United Nations in Bosnia, and one has to wonder whether people, most of whom know an aggressor when they see one, know exactly what the United Nations is doing in their name.

What it has been doing, as it wallows in its futile pretense that aggressors make peace because you want them to, is continuing the war at top speed. Its vaunted neutrality has only given power to the aggressors (the Serbs) and doomed the Bosnians (until now). On top of that, U.N. people on the ground, such as special representative Yasushi Akashi and the commanding general, Sir Michael Rose, have said repeatedly that not only should the Bosnians give in to the superior forces of the Serbs but also that the Bosnians could not fight back -- and so, like all weak peoples, should just be practical and accustom themselves to the slaughter.

A little description of what we are dealing with here: Mr. Akashi is a lifelong Japanese U.N. diplomat with zealous eyes. One has the impression, being with him, that he feels himself one of the few "initiated." His whole "neutralist" mentality causes him to show his contempt more than he really should, not only for the United States but for the entire Western world. He calls the Western soldiers in Bosnia "children with toys who need to be kept in line -- you know, they're just soldiers." And he says of the Serbs that he (with his infinite Oriental patience) alone understands them -- "they are a little people, like Japan 60 years ago."

To the contrary, the entire U.N. operation there understands nothing. Above all, they do not understand that the war will end not because of their childish blandishments, but only when the Serbs have suffered enough that they will need to end it. Indeed, with this victory, it is even clearer now than before that, with the Bosnians armed and fighting and with Western air strikes, the war could at any time have been over in one month.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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