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U.N. Admits Bosnia Blunders

The United Nations says it failed to help save thousands of Bosnian Muslims from a Serb mass murder in 1995 because of errors, misjudgment and “an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us.”

In a long-awaited report on the Srebrenica massacres -- the worst in Europe since World War II -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday the United Nations treated Serbs and Muslims equally when they should have made a “moral judgment” that the Serbs' campaign of ethnic cleansing was evil.

The secretary-general, who headed U.N. peacekeeping operations during the war in Bosnia, said the fall of Srebrenica was “shocking” because of the magnitude of the killings.

Starting July 11, 1995, just a few months before the end of the 3½-year war, Bosnian Serb forces overran the eastern town, which was designated a U.N.-protected zone. When the slaughter was finished, as many as 8,000 men and boys older than 14 were missing.

The remains of close to 2,500 people have been found in mass graves, and several thousand more will likely be found in other burial sites that will be excavated next year, Annan said.

At the root of the U.N. failure, he said, was the Security Council's decision to respond to the war in Bosnia with an arms embargo, humanitarian aid and a peacekeeping force.

The arms embargo left the Serbs in a position of overwhelming military dominance and deprived Bosnia of its right to self-defense. And neither humanitarian assistance nor peacekeepers could solve a problem “which cried out for a political-military solution,” Annan said.

“The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion,” he said in the 155-page report to the U.N. General Assembly.

Annan said primary responsibility for the tragedy lies with wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, who embarked on the systematic killing of the Srebrenica Muslims.

But Annan also pointed fingers at U.N. staff in New York -- including himself, U.N. peacekeepers on the ground in Srebrenica and the six-nation “Contact Group” that oversees the Balkans: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

The enclave's inhabitants believed that the presence of 150 Dutch U.N. peacekeepers and the might of NATO airpower would ensure their safety, Annan said.

But Serb forces pushed aside the U.N. troops and overran Srebrenica with ease. Then, the Serbs got rid of the entire population within 48 hours, he said.

He encouraged the 188 U.N. member states to address issues raised in the report -- including its institutional commitment to impartiality even when cofronted with attempted genocide, and “the pervasive ambivalence within the United Nations regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace.”

Written by Edith M. Lederer
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