Reports of bootlegging and fraternising by UN troops in Croatia and Bosnia have been circulating for more than a year, but the belated investigation, which began in Sarajevo yesterday, 'is only a preliminary inquiry to see if a full investigation is warranted', said one source. 'Nobody is taking it very seriously.'
A UN spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Tricia Purves, said yesterday a team of military police would investigate corruption and black-marketeering among UN peace-keeping troops. Lt-Col Purves said that a team, to be led by a senior French military policeman, would arrive soon.
Judging by previous practice, any investigation is more likely to focus on discovering the identity of the unnamed officers quoted in yesterday's Guardian - one of whom described the UN as 'the most corrupt organisation I have ever worked for; everybody is on the take' - than on getting to the bottom of the allegations.
Even if the UN had solid proof that its troops in Bosnia were smuggling heroin as well as profiteering in food, cigarettes and alcohol, 'it would never make the information public for fear of offending a troop contributor', in this case France and the Ukraine, another source said.
In Kiev, a top military official admitted yesterday that hardship at home spurred Ukrainian troops in Bosnia to sell cigarettes and food on the black-market but denied his men dealt in drugs, fuel or weaponry. Colonel Viktor Bezruchenko, head of peace-keeping operations in Ukraine's Defence Ministry, told Reuters that Bosnian officials fabricated evidence of speculation to discredit peace-keeping troops.
'Incidents of small-time speculation with cigarettes and food have occurred,' Col Bezruchenko said of the 400-strong Ukrainian contingent, which has been deployed in Bosnia for more than a year. 'The economic situation in Ukraine, of course, has an effect on this. But as far as fuel, heroin and weapons are concerned, this is out of the question.' Fifteen Ukrainian servicemen have been sent home in disgrace from Bosnia after being implicated in black-market trading in the besieged capital Sarajevo.
The UN, which is bankrupt because countries are behind with payment of dues, is begging for another 40,000 troops to put into Bosnia for the new peace agreement. It will also have to spend tens of millions of dollars to finance their stay. The organisation is deeply embarrassed by the reports of ill-discipline by some of its forces, but also proud of the job they have done in preventing Sarajevo and some other besieged cities from succumbing to starvation.
Despite its accomplishments in protecting civilians, the protection force - Unprofor - and agencies like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have frequently failed to take the initiative in cases of dire humanitarian need. Since last March the UN has known that civilians were being bombarded and starved out by Croats in Mostar, but the organisation only attempted in earnest to get in a desperately needed aid convoy this week after intensive media pressure.
Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian head of UN peace-keeping, who is visiting Bosnia for the first time this week, did not comment on yesterday's reports of soldiers using prostitutes and engaging in black-marketeering, but he did express his 'grave concern' over an incident on Wednesday in which Bosnian government forces opened fire on a unit of French troops on Mount Igman, seriously wounding their commander, Captain Georges Jacono.
The 27,088 peace-keeping forces have suffered 613 casualties since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
The force comprises 24 nationalities of widely differing ability and combat experience. The French Foreign Legionnaires in Sarajevo are not only combat-experienced, but have the reputation of being some of the toughest soldiers around; many are fugitives from justice in their own countries. Some UN officials privately queried why the organisation used the Foreign Legion, or the ill-disciplined Ukrainian forces, for a sensitive humanitarian operation, but the organisation was in no position to turn down an offer of troops.
Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 28
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