Britain considers UN troop options

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE United Nations needs more infantry and military engineers to hold together the precarious ceasefires in Bosnia. One way that the United States and Britain could overcome their reluctance to put more ground troops into Bosnia would be to make their contribution in the form of engineer units to start rebuilding the shredded counterpane of Bosnia, army sources suggested yesterday. These would be less obtrusively 'fighting soldiers', and Britain and the US are in any case committed to begin reconstruction in Sarajevo.

Another solution, which looks increasingly likely, would be for the UN to call on troops from countries traditionally excluded because of their historical ties with the area. Germans and Italians are still unlikely, but the Turks, who ruled Bosnia for several hundred years, would like to help. The UN's special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, suggested as much on Wednesday. UN sources in Zagreb said the US, Britain and France were the only countries assessed as able to provide the forces 'right now'. Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium have made substantial contributions but have small armed forces and were fully stretched.

Britain and the US have agreed to start rebuilding Sarajevo's shattered infrastructure; to do so, they need to send in engineers to reconnoitre. Given the UN's demands on Wednesday, including an engineer unit for Sarajevo, they could kill two birds with one stone.

The UN requested another 10,650 troops on Thursday, a plea pointedly aimed at Britain, France and the US. France and the US refused; Britain is still considering the UN's 'shopping list'. The list says that 6,050 more troops are needed for central Bosnia, including four battalions (4,800 troops) to monitor the ceasefire; a 600- strong 'logistic battalion' in support and 650 engineers and logistic troops for reconstruction and road repair. The 4,600 troops for Sarajevo should include 2,400 infantry - 'two or three battalions' - plus a support unit and engineer unit totalling 2,200 troops.

In the last few days, the UN's Bosnia-Herzegovina command, with nearly 14,000 troops, has been completely reorganised and streamlined to help cope with the Muslim-Croat ceasefire. This is the biggest change since it was set up by UN Resolution 770 of 13 August 1992.

Previously, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose's main headquarters was at Kiseljak, a spa just north-west of Sarajevo. Now Kiseljak will just be an infantry and supply base, with the main UN headquarters, greatly streamlined, at Sarajevo. Support units have been moved back to Split.

(Photograph omitted)