Britain ready to back ceasefire with more troops

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BRITAIN would be prepared to provide more troops to help police the fragile ceasefire around Sarajevo, the commander of UK Land Forces indicated yesterday. But it would be for the United Nations to request such extra troops and, as Britain is already one of the two largest contributors to UN operations, sources said the UN might look to other countries first.

Plans for a complete shake-up of the UN command in Bosnia to help implement the more 'muscular' approach advocated by the new UN commander, Lieutenant- General Sir Michael Rose, have resurfaced at the British headquarters in Split.

On extra British troops, all the Ministry of Defence would say yesterday was 'a wide range of capabilities have been earmarked to reinforce British troops according to the situation'. Because the situation is so uncertain, they are keeping their hand well covered.

Any extra troops sent would have to be trained in peace-keeping and monitoring, and might form a separate, larger force from the armoured infantry of the Royal Anglian Regiment, which is due to replace the Coldstream Guards group at Vitez within about two month's time.

The Royal Anglian battalion group could not be used as a monitoring force as it would interrupt the changeover with the Guards, and forces of a different type are required. Under the shake-up being studied in Split, the command of UN forces would become more like that of a normal military operation. which, if the UN gets tough, might be necessary.

The plan to introduce two intermediate commands, one possibly run by the British, the other perhaps by the French, was first mooted a year ago and re-emerged after General Rose's arrival nearly three weeks ago.

Bosnia-Herzegovina command (BHC), based at Kiseljak and with a forward headquarters in Sarajevo, controls many UN battalions, each of which operates in a self-contained fashion. In a normal military operation, it would have an impossible 'span of control'. And with the arrival of more battalions - a Malaysian battalion which will operate from Jablanica and a Nordic battalion, with three companies of Swedes and one of Danes, now mostly in place at Tuzla - it will get worse.

Under General Rose's 'three- star', or corps-level, command, two new, brigade-level, 'one-star' headquarters would be set up. The British would be ideally suited to command BHC south. They already have a brigadier, paratrooper John Reith, at Split in charge of the route from the sea, but he shares command of the British battalion with the UN headquarters at Kiseljak which gives the operational orders. He might take command of the Malaysian and Spanish battalions as well as the British, becoming an international operational commander answering to Kiseljak.

The northern command might go to the French. They have the largest contingent in the former Yugoslavia, some 6,000 troops, many in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The French brigadier-general would control French, Canadian and Nordic battalions.

Such a profound change could mean the British headquarters, moving up country from Split so it can take a more direct command role. Sources stress that the creation of the new BHC north and south commands is only an option, but it would be logical if UN forces were expanded in numbers, if the UN became more actively involved in peace-keeping, or if air strikes took place and the UN became the fourth party in the war.

Comments