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Three Basics on Bosnia

CONFUSION and cross-purposes about intervening in Bosnia have caused President Clinton to delay approval of military action there. Congress isn't settled. The Europeans are stalling; they want to wait for a referendum on peace overseen by the Bosnian Serb parliament, an illegal body that says it has no intention of keeping peace. The Milosevic regime has as a maneuver split with angry Bosnian Serbs, confusing matters more.

Confusion, however, can be cut by focusing on three points.

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First: The real story in Bosnia is the massacre of civilians now taking place - off camera. Serbs have attacked the town of Zepa; hundreds have died. Other villages near the Drina River, 70,000 civilians, are set for "ethnic cleansing." Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic loves to talk to the Western media. But he let no journalists into Zepa; Belgrade sources term it "genocide."

Europeans say arming the Bosnians means removing troops and aid. Yet Bosnia now requests UN troops to leave so they can arm. As for aid, the last UN convoy to reach Zepa was March 4.

Second: What Serb President Slobodan Milosevic most wants is the United Nations in Bosnia. He is poised for a victory there and needs UN peacekeepers to seal it. His apparent "split" with Bosnian Serbs is a tactical retreat. It is a carbon copy of the bullying he did of Serbs in Croatia before the UN went in last year to ratify Serb gains there. (No Croatian family has been resettled in Serb regions, a central tenet of the failed Vance Plan in Croatia.)

Unless it acts in Bosnia, the West is poised to help an accused war criminal, responsible for the worst barbarism in Europe since Hitler, consolidate his gains.

Third: No one believes the Vance-Owen plan can work. Secretary Christopher calls it "closed." Yet it lingers as a device for inaction. Most troubling is the Vance-Owen definition of Bosnia as a civil war. The Security Council defines it as an international act of aggression. The truth is, this is a Serb war for territory - planned, organized, staffed, and financed by Belgrade. If a civil war, why the sanctions on Serbia?

President Clinton must consider what action in Bosnia would do to his presidency. He also must consider what inaction will do. It is past time for him to speak to Americans about halting a genocide in Europe. He should go on TV with a "historic" speech, reinterpreting the values the civilized world will act on in this generation. He must appeal to the best in Americans. As Elie Wiesel told Clinton at the Holocaust Memorial, we can't stand by while a people are exterminated. Clinton must say that if Europ eans won't intervene, the US will. This will bring them around. Sen. Bob Dole will go on TV right after Clinton with needed bipartisan support.

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