Briton takes command of peace troops in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL Sir Michael Rose took command of all UN troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina yesterday amid speculation that the UN might withdraw in the spring. But, speaking in Sarajevo, General Rose, 53, said 'that's not part of our intentions at the moment'.

He disagreed with his predecessor, the Belgian Lieutenant-General Francis Briquemont, on whether the UN had enough troops to fulfil its mandate in Bosnia. The British view is that it does, and that not enough aid is rolling up the roads protected by the UN troops.

General Rose was with General Briquemont and General Jean Cot of France, who commands all UN troops in the former Yugoslavia and, like General Briquemont, is leaving his post early after criticising the UN. General Rose had flown straight to Sarajevo from Zagreb, and will move to his main headquarters in Kiseljak today.

Elsewhere in Bosnia, Tuzla airport remained closed because of the threat from nearby Serbian artillery, while there were reports of an attempt by the mainly Muslim Bosnian army (BiH) to break out of the isolated Maglaj pocket. The representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Zenica and the British UN force have been attempting to reach the pocket for weeks and if the BiH re-established contact with the pocket it would improve the aid situation.

In spite of the assurance of the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, at the weekend that the aid operation was going well, no aid convoys moved from the depot at Zenica on Sunday or yesterday because there was no food in the warehouse.

In Sarajevo, General Cot reiterated the policy of all the main players, saying 'I cannot see how we could leave this land before the end of winter. But if after the winter people are determined they will not have peace, that they want war, then we shall see.'

He reiterated his demand to be able to call air strikes swiftly. 'In the case of massive attack against the safe areas or anywhere else, the only means we have of reacting immediately is close air support,' General Cot said. 'Immediately means three minutes. Half an hour would be nice. But certainly no more.' In practice, the time taken to get clearance from the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, might exceed that. General Rose agreed with General Cot on the 'right of immediate response'.

The British battalion based at Vitez is convinced that they have enough troops and vehicles to secure the aid routes. They have fulfilled their mission, which was 'creating conditions to move aid', and seem to feel that it is a pity more aid is not moving.

General Rose has so far said nothing about his plans. A French news agency reported an interview in the French resort of Serre Chevalier at the weekend, where General Rose was leading an army ski team before taking up his new job. He merely said it was 'a challenge I won't shrink from'. The presence of a British officer at the head of the UN forces in Bosnia is not expected to make any difference to the daily business of the British forces here.

As a former member of the Coldstream Guards, into which he was commissioned in 1964, General Rose does have a special affinity with the British battalion down the road. Educated at Oxford and the Sorbonne, he also has an affinity with the French, for whom the presence of forces in Bosnia is a more prominent political issue. He commanded a squadron of 22 Special Air Service regiment in the Middle East and Far East in the 1970s and the entire regiment during the 1982 Falklands war.

Yesterday shelling continued all along the front between the Serbs and the eastern edge of BiH-controlled central Bosnia. The BiH command seemed confident that their break-out from the Maglaj pocket would succeed, permitting an influx of aid to people who have seen none for weeks. There is no doubt that the populace of central Bosnia is getting more desperate. The British command in Vitez is concerned about attempts to break in to the outstation at Gornji Vakuf, the front line in the Croat-Muslim war, where thieves are using snipers for cover.

Further south, the Bosnian Croat HVO, assisted by units of the Croatian army proper, have been bringing up heavy weapons, including multi-barrelled rocket launchers, suggesting a new operation against the BiH is imminent.

PARIS - France and the US remained at odds over allied strategy toward Bosnia yesterday after Washington rejected a French proposal for major powers to impose a peace settlement to end the Balkan war, Reuter reports.

But they agreed to launch a new effort to 'reinvigorate' peace negotiating and the French President, Francois Mitterrand told US Secretary of State Warren Christopher that Paris would soon put forward new proposals to help end fighting.