Koert Debeuf Column

Syria Is A Second Bosnia. Assad Is Milosevic. (Column)

Syrian revolution 2011

Syrian revolution 2011

We all saw the horrifying images. Dozens of children who were mercilessly slaughtered in the Syrian city Houla. It is one of the many massacres since the Syrian revolution started on 15 March 2011. Men, women, children are killed by the regime’s soldiers by grenades, bullets, knifes or bare hands. Those who are captured, are tortured to death in the most brutal ways. We all know it. We all see it. But the focus on Syria is decreasing. It’s hard to broadcast the same news every day.

Meanwhile the international community keeps on “observing”. It’s a crying shame. How much longer are we going to leave Bashar Al-Assad untouched?
 Cynically enough the comparison with the war in Bosnia is more than obvious. The scenario is nearly identical. A quick memory refresher: the violence in Bosnia started in April 1992, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Serbs proclaimed their own republic and carried out an ethnic cleansing through the whole territory, mainly of Bosnian Muslims, which caused a hundred thousand victims. The most horrifying images, especially those of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, remain deeply embedded in our minds and are one of the darkest pages in the history of the international community.
Why? Just like in Syria the international community tried a peace plan for Bosnia, on 1 May 1993. Also 13 months after the war and the slaughtering had started. The plan required that the Serbs would stop shelling Sarajevo. The comparison with Homs and Hama is clear.

When the horror continued, Western countries scanned each other for months in order to measure their readiness for a military intervention. Alas, nobody was ready. The reasons for their hesitance sound familiar: the situation was complex, it was a sectarian war between Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims who all had committed crimes, which made it difficult to choose a side, Russia was objecting because of its ties with Serbia and there was no “post-war-plan”.
Only three years and a hundred thousand victims after the beginning of the war, a military intervention took finally place. A few months after the intervention all the Dayton agreements were signed by all parties concerned. Bosnia had to wait until the ethnic massacre of Srebrenica, where seven thousand Bosnians were massacred at once, while they were actually under UN protection.
It is a disgrace that the international community is using identical reasons for not intervening in Syria.

The situation is complex in Syria, there is fear for sectarian violence, Russia is objecting, there is no “post-Assad-plan” and the opposition is divided – even if they are united in the request for Assad to leave. Since 2001 there is another argument that is cunningly manipulated by Assad: the presence of Al-Qaeda. Although we can doubt to what extend Al-Qaeda still exists, since a few months there are indeed members present in Syria. That was the case in Bosnia as well, and there are probably as many of them in Syria as there used to be in Bosnia at the time: a few hundred. The only difference is that back then they were called Mujahedeen.
In Cairo I regularly meet Syrian opposition leaders. Each one of them fled from Syria in the past six months. Many of them lived under cover for many months. Others were tortured in Assad’s prisons. They all say the same thing: after the massacre in Houla it should be clear for everybody: Kofi Annan’s peace plan doesn’t work and it will never work. Assad will do everything to stay in power, no matter what. His army will continue to rape, to kill and to destroy. His secret service will continue to arrest people who dear to talk to UN-watchers and torture them to death. Those who openly oppose against Assad, will be killed as well as their entire family. The terror will remain, even though if Assad is not in a strong position at all. The part of the army actually fighting consist of only twenty thousand soldiers. He doesn’t trust all the others. More than hundred thousand soldiers are kept in their barracks. Last week I heard from somebody who had just fled Damascus that Assad even has confiscated all passports of ministers and army generals, in order to prevent them from escaping the country.
There is only one way to stop this terror and that is an international intervention. The creation of one or two safe zones where people can find refuge and from where humanitarian aid can be sent to the right places. Sooner or later this intervention will take place, just like in Bosnia. With the UN if possible, with NATO if necessary, just like in Kosovo in 1999. The only question is: how many more children will need to be massacred before proper action will be taken?

by Koert Debeuf

FLI Koert Debeuf PortretKoert Debeuf lives in Cairo, Egypt, where he represented the EU parliament’s Alde group for many years. Currently he is Project Coordinator “World Leaders on Transitions towards Democracy” at International IDEA. He is a former advisor of a Belgian prime minister. Reporting from post-revolutionary Egypt, his columns are a window on events in the Arab world. Koert Debeuf is also author of ‘Inside the Arab Revolution’.

For more columns of Koert Debeuf, click here.

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