CAIRO – Images of cold-blooded killings, indiscriminate shelling and cruelty in Syria are reminiscent of scenes of brutality of Europe’s most dreadful genocide in Bosnia.
But while Western powers intervened to stop the Bosnian tragedy, they have no intention of going into the Arab country to end the bloodshed.
"The Bosnian War and the conflict in Syria are different in nature," Soner Cagaptay and Andrew Tabler of The Washington Institute told Reuters.
But "any international groups looking to provide humanitarian intervention to protect vulnerable civilians in enclaves 'liberated' by the opposition (in Syria) should draw on lessons from Bosnia in the 1990s."
Thousands of people were killed in 11 months of bloody crackdowns by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces on anti-regime protestors.
Video footage show images of indiscriminate shelling and cold-blooded killings by snipers reminiscent to the civil war in Bosnia in the 1990s when Serb, Croatian and Muslim forces tore the Balkan country apart.
Bosnia's carnage was broadcast globally month after month by 24-hour satellite television news then in its early days.
The slaughter in the Syrian city of Homs has been playing out to the world almost hourly on mobile phone and amateur video.
Images of dead babies, severed limbs, blood running in the gutters and people driven mad by grief provoke horror, followed by demands for armed foreign intervention.
Intervention did come to Bosnia, but so hesitantly that the agony of its people went on for nearly 4 years, in which tens of thousands were killed and a million lost their homes.
Western powers who finally stopped the slaughter say they have no intention of going into Syria, a move that would have incalculable consequences in a volatile region.
While Bosnia was a small republic of Yugoslavia, a European crisis on NATO's doorstep, Syria is a major Arab republic with powerful friends in Russia and Iran, situated on a strategic crossroads.
The best weapon in Bosnia against the unmatchable firepower of a Bosnian Serb army bristling with tanks and artillery turned out to be the anger and disgust of world opinion.
So far, there have been no mass demonstrations in Western capitals demanding that NATO governments intervene in Syria.
Last week the UN General Assembly condemned Assad's government for gross human rights violations and told him he must go, a resolution that backed an Arab League plan demanding the withdrawal of Syrian heavy weapons from towns and cities.
The Bosnia lesson shows that it would require an international force protected by air power and with a mandate to shoot back.
It would likely be NATO-led, headed by a Muslim general from NATO member Turkey, Syria's northern neighbor, and including Arab units.
Turkey months ago called for safe havens for Syrians, and is now collaborating with the Arab League and France.
A "Friends of Syria" meeting to be held with Arab states in Tunisia on February 24 "will produce a very strong message of solidarity with the Syrian people and also a warning for the Syrian regime," says Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Establishing safe havens and humanitarian corridors in Syria would need a UN mandate.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that, even with a UN mandate and Arab backing, he doubts the alliance would get involved.
Yet as Bosnia showed, policies can change.
"We got no dog in this fight," US Secretary of State James Baker famously said in 1991 after a failed mission to stop the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia which ignited Bosnia's war.
But when it turned into Europe's worst conflict since World War Two, NATO did get into the fight, starting with a token 50 peacekeepers but ending with 100,000 in the country, after bombing Bosnian Serb heavy weapons to impose a peace settlement.
It took five years and over 100 United Nations Security Council resolutions to extinguish the war the United Nations had hoped would end in the summer of 1992.
It ended in the winter of 1995, with more than 100,000 dead and entire cities destroyed.
Right now, the prospects of a UN peacekeeping force for Syria are seen as slim, since "there is no peace to keep,” the same case for Bosnia in 1992.
The Washington Institute's Cagaptay and Tabler say a mission to Syria could succeed, and avoid escalation, if it heeds the lessons of Bosnia and avoids the pitfalls.
Firstly it must avoid "designating safe havens without a credible military structure to protect them," they said.
Secondly it must not "send in peacekeepers without a strong mandate for them to shoot back."Thirdly, it must "use airpower to protect the enclaves and maintain humanitarian corridors."
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