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THE WORLD FROM... Sarajevo

To those in Bosnia's weary capital, US and European reluctance to act suggests things will just get worse

ZLATKO LAGUMDZIJA, a commander of the defense of Sarajevo who lost his right eye to shrapnel, was deeply bewildered.

Returning from the front after a recent day of combat in which six of his men died, he wondered how the world, and especially the United States, could allow Serbian gunners to starve and bombard a half million men, women, and children for six months.

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His despair is shared by a population whose Desert Storm-bred hope in President Bush's promise of a New World Order has been supplanted by outrage and disbelief at what it sees as short-sighted self-interest and double standards.

"Things would be different if we had oil like Kuwait," Mr. Lagumdzija asserts.

This shellfire-fueled frustration has been heightened by perceptions of other Western inconsistencies.

Unlike the Kuwaiti sheikdom, Bosnians - Muslim Slavs and moderate Serbs and Croats - stress a desire to build a state along the lines aired by Washington and its allies: a democracy that preserves the ethnic comity built in the former Yugoslav republic during 47 years of communism.

And Sarajevans cannot rationalize the West's negotiating policy of treating the warring factions as equals in the face of the Serbs' carbon-copy land-grab in adjacent Croatia last year, their massive "ethnic cleansing," persistent failures to abide by internationally brokered accords, and their overwhelming superiority in weaponry.

Surprisingly, many here do not seek military intervention: They understand President Bush's election-year reluctance to send US troops to die in a land that most Americans have never heard of and cannot find on a map.

But they cannot fathom how Washington and its European allies can back United Nations discussions and international peace conferences, but fail to provide the means to ensure Serbian compliance with their decisions. Nor can they understand Western support for the inclusion of Bosnia-Herzegovina under a UN embargo of arms sales to the former Yugoslav republics.

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Sarajevans see the embargo as inadvertent support for the Serbs, who are sustained by the cash, fuel, and arms factories of their chief patron, communist-ruled Serbia, in flagrant defiance of the international community.

Many would prefer the West to lift the embargo rather than continue the UN humanitarian relief operations.

"Let us have the arms and we can do the job," asserts Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic.

But Sarajevans are mostly perplexed by official US assertions that the conflict is a European matter and that Americans have no stake in the crisis.

Does not Bush realize, they ask, that the massive exodus of refugees is adding to instability in an economically troubled Western Europe? And that the region is now seeing indications of a rebirth of the fascism that Americans fought in World War II?

Does Bush not recognize that the longer the Bosnian war rages, the more likely new conflicts will erupt in former Yugoslavia that would almost certainly drag in neighboring states?

Finally, Sarajevans remind foreign visitors of Serbian claims that Muslim Slavs are waging a jihad, or holy war, to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the heart of Europe.

While they ridicule such propaganda, many privately warn that the longer the US and Western Europe vacillate, the more realistic these scenarios become.

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