The United Nations is to end its 31,000-strong peace-keeping operation in Bosnia and hand over to a multinational force that is dominated by Nato in a move that is both an admission of failure and a political humiliation.
The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, wrote to members of the Security Council yesterday to say he would recommend an early end to the UN presence - whether or not peace was achieved in Bosnia.
As he did so, Muslim and Croat troops were engaged in a furious battle against the Bosnian Serbs for territory in northern Bosnia, jeopardising the fragile negotiations by the American Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke. "Some very strong nerves will be needed now," a senior diplomat said last night.
The Secretary-General told the Security Council that the United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) should end its role in Bosnia and transfer its authority to a multinational force made up of "an ad hoc coalition" of member states.
The new force could include British soldiers, if government ministers decide that they should stay on and join a Nato contingent which will be bolstered by troops from various Islamic states as well as from Russia.
But the future task and composition of the new force remain uncertain, while a visibly dispirited Mr Holbrooke confessed yesterday to making only "a little progress" in talks with the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic.
The decision by Mr Boutros-Ghali effectively means the end of Unprofor, established under Resolution 743 by the Security Council on 21 February 1992. Resolution 743 defined Unprofor as "an interim arrangement to create the conditions of peace and security". It "urged" the warring parties to observe a ceasefire signed in 1991 and "demanded" that all of them ensure the safety of UN personnel.
But conflicting chains of civilian and military command, coupled with disagreements over strategy, bedevilled the UN presence in Bosnia, where a succession of generals - Nambiar, Mackenzie,Wahlgren, Briquemont, Morillon and Rose - all attracted accusations of bias and failed to achieve a lasting peace.
The force also suffered dozens of fatalities and hundreds of its men were taken hostage.
About 2,500 UN troops will remain in Croatia, where most of the peace- keepers were overrun by a government offensive in August, while 1,100 soldiers still patrol the Macedonian border in the only part of the operation successfully to keep the peace.
The end of Unprofor is a dismal beginning to the UN General Assembly, which opens today in New York, and the UN's failure in Yugoslavia will cast a shadow over its 50th anniversary celebrations later this autumn. It will also set off a fresh debate about the future of peace-keeping and is certain to fuel calls for a thorough reform of the UN system.
Serb collapse, page 9