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April 1997

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Letters - Another Interpretation of the war in Bosnia

I wish to correct statements in your article, A shot that's still ringing (March 12). My sole concern with the war in Bosnia is the advancement of American foreign policy interests in European stability, including Nato's organisational integrity. I do not care about the problems of the warring factions per se.

Now that the United States, through Nato, has occupied Bosnia, we have a responsibility to create conditions for a self-sustaining peace and the eventual exit of Nato forces. To succeed, we must learn from mistakes that we made before intervention and try to understand the current situation better.

You associate me with efforts to "rewrite history". What history? Surely you cannot mean that journalistic accounts accurately reflected events. I could offer dozens of examples that exerted a critical, at times debilitating influence over policy, but take one: the number killed. Starting in mid-1993, using statistics given by Bosnian officials, virtually every large media organisation published a boilerplate figure of 200-250,000 killed, and they continue to do so. But the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in its 1996 Yearbook (Oxford, 1997), estimates 30-50,000 total by the end of the war, on all sides. Which one is most likely to be right?

All sides have suffered and none have been exclusive victims. The West's worst mistake was to give uncritical support to the Bosnian government, run by the Muslims. Hysterical journalists, especially, revved up visions of Nazi concentration camps and the killing fields of Cambodia. Bosnia was not at all like that. When journalists brand as "Serb apologists" those who call for dispassionate analysis of what has happened, something has gone badly wrong with the public debate. Character assassination must not substitute for disciplined argument based on fact.

George Kenney, 4020 36th Street NW, Washington DC 20008.

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