Bosnia Crisis: Only Rose emerges smelling sweetly: The General is not to blame for failing to protect the town of Gorazde, says Christopher Bellamy in Vitez

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The Independent Online
ONLY ONE senior commander in Bosnia comes out of yesterday's agreement with the Bosnian Serbs and the events of recent days with any honour - Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose.

The agreement effectively accepts Bosnian Serb military gains from a people with an imposed disadvantage in armaments in exchange for the release of UN hostages and lifting a reimposed siege of Sarajevo. But as soon as it was signed by the UN Secretary-General's special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, it was uncertain it would hold. Almost immediately came the news that the Bosnian Serbs were still attacking Gorazde.

The UN has suffered a disaster to its aims and reputation in Bosnia in the last few days, and the natural tendency is to blame the UN military commander. But it is Mr Akashi, not General Rose, whose future is uncertain.

In the last few days much of the Gorazde 'safe area' has been captured and the town is now overlooked by Serbian troops. General Rose's reputation has probably been saved by someone who intercepted a conversation between the general in Sarajevo and Mr Akashi who was en route to the Bosnian Serb capital at Pale. On an open line, General Rose pleaded several times for air support to hold back the Serbs. His request was denied.

In his judgement, air support was needed and, as happened when his request for reinforcements earlier in the year was rejected by British politicians, people found out. But as a soldier, the General ultimately had to do what the politicians told him.

General Rose wanted British troops in Gorazde because he could rely on them for accurate information and to act as a trip wire. Their presence was meant to enable him to call in air strikes under UN Resolution 836, which permits air power to be invoked to protect UN personnel fulfilling their mandate in 'safe areas' - which are clearly nothing of the sort. An attack on the area could be an attack on the UN.

General Rose then had the rug pulled from under him. Not only were his pleas for air support rejected, the weather was against him and he could not foresee the Bosnian army would withdraw over his men. Assessments forecast that the Bosnian army held good defensive terrain and would not be defeated; they were wrong.

In a statement on Saturday Mr Akashi said that unless there was 'serious and manifest intention by the Bosnian Serb army, supported by clear action and co-operation on the ground, it would be meaningless in present circumstances for Unprofor (the UN Protection Force) to continue to fulfil its present activities in Bosnia- Herzegovina'. Mr Akashi is currently reviewing the 'future role and status of Unprofor in Bosnia- Herzegovina in close consultation with the UN Secretary-General (Boutros-Boutros Ghali) who will be reporting to the security council soon'.

It is open to interpretation, but Mr Akashi implies that the UN does not have the resources to fulfil its mandate. Its original mandate was escorting humanitarian aid with 'reasonable compliance' from the locals. This suddenly changed to peace-keeping.

The Muslims and Croats want and are working for peace, but clearly between the Muslim-led Bosnian army (BiH) and the Bosnian Serb army there is no peace to keep. General Rose did not favour trying to enforce peace, which is impossible with the UN's present resources. But he did try to honour the UN's commitment to making Gorazde a 'safe area', something which timely intervention with the available forces could have achieved.

When he took over his command, I asked General Rose if he would leave, like his predecessors, as a dispirited and broken general. 'Certainly not,' he said. He has to operate with political and diplomatic as well as military factors at every level. Unless he is given more resources and the authority to use them, he cannot beat back the Bosnian Serbs. It is clear that had he been allowed to, he could and would have done so.

TIMETABLE OF CONFLICT SINCE ROSE ARRIVAL

5 January: Lt-Gen Sir Michael Rose as UN commander in Bosnia.

18 January: Nato extends threat of air strikes against Bosnian Serbs by demanding they allow the opening of Tuzla airport.

19 January: Yugoslavia and Croatia agree to normalise relations. The Bosnian Serbs and Croats sign a similar pact, but talks between the three Bosnian factions on ending the war achieve nothing.

3 February: UN Security Council gives Croatia two weeks to begin pulling 5,000 regular troops out of Bosnia or face sanctions.

5 February: Explosion at market in Sarajevo kills 68 people.

10 February: Nato warns Bosnian Serbs to end shelling of Sarajevo within 10 days or face air strikes. Ceasefire in Sarajevo.

20 February: As Nato ultimatum expires, UN says Serbs complied enough to avoid air strikes.

25 February: Ceasefire between Bosnian government and Croats.

28 February: Nato jets shoot down four Serb planes. Serbs shell Tuzla airport.

1 March: Bosnian and Croatian governments and Bosnian Croats agree deal on confederation.

20 March: UN convoy enters Maglaj, ending Serb siege.

22 March: Tuzla airport opens for UN military flights.

29 March: Bosnian Serbs launch offensive on enclave of Gorazde.

30 March: Zagreb signs ceasefire deal with rebel Serbs in Croatia.

7 April: Bosnian government and Serbs agree 24-hour ceasefire.

8 April: Serbs step up offensive.

10 April: UN calls air strikes on Serbs around Gorazde.

11 April: Serbs intensify attack, prompting second UN air strike. Serbs close roads to Sarajevo and hold UN staff hostage.

14 April: Serbs shell Tuzla.

15 April: Serbs reach outskirts of Gorazde; an SAS soldier in the town is killed, another wounded. French plane is hit by ground-fire.

16 April: Nato jet shot down over Gorazde.

/ET

(Photograph omitted)

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