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Bosnia: Think Anew

THE Bosnia talks in Geneva having failed, the issue moves to the United Nations in New York. Negotiators Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen want the Security Council to force all sides into a peace plan that partitions Bosnia into 10 ethnic cantons, and which the Serbs have no incentive to keep.

The Clinton administration still has no public policy on the thorny problem of Bosnia. It might seem tempting for the White House to accept the Vance-Owen effort to lock-in their plan. But it should not. The Geneva plan rewards the aggressors in Bosnia with land and says and does nothing about the barbarity with which it was taken.

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The Geneva failure, however, gives the West an opening for fresh thinking about a solution based on action that is morally sound and in line with principles the West has always stood for. The time is ripe for such a shift. The Muslims, having been beaten horribly for 10 months, are ready. They have men. They are beginning to fight back in East Bosnia. Serb aggressors in Belgrade are getting worried.

Three basic actions will help: First, lift the arms embargo on Muslims, allowing them to defend themselves. Second, enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia creating a psychological boost. Finally, the West must fullfil a promise it has given but not kept - namely, ensuring that humanitarian aid gets through to suffering Bosnians.

Careful action will help the White House face two other problems the West's previous inaction has brought: First, aid to Muslims will give the White House an argument to keep the angry Islamic world out of Bosnia. Second, a no-fly zone that applies to all - Serbs, Croats, Muslims - can deflect recent warnings from various Russians that the West not intervene against Serbs.

Bosnia should not be treated as a small country about which the West knows very little. The Bosnian genocide is a moral crisis for the West. Since April, Serb forces have assaulted a civilian population of mainly Muslims, killed 100,000, raped 30,000 women, and driven 1.4 million people from their land. The Serbs are the aggressors. That is not a complicated truth. It is not a truth hidden from view. But it is a truth the Geneva team hasn't admitted.

Messrs Vance and Owen are men too good to continue within the restrictive negotiating rules they inherited. They say helping Bosnia won't solve anything. The 45 Sarajavens who died Sunday, or the 7,000 Muslims now being "ethnically cleansed" in Trebenje might disagree. What has failed is the West's "peace" approach.

The West wants an airtight case for success before it acts. This has caused paralysis. Now it must act based on what is right.

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