Deal with Serbs sparks call for Akashi to go

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The Independent Online
A verbal deal between Serbian forces and the United Nations special envoy in Bosnia, Yasushi Akashi, that allowed the Serbs to take tanks through the 20-km (12 miles) weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo, has so angered the Bosnian Muslim government that it has called for Mr Akashi's resignation. Embarrassed UN officials immediately cancelled the deal, but sources at UN headquarters said there was no question of removing Mr Akashi. In Geneva the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, yesterday defended the beleaguered Mr Akashi and said he had no plans to bow to Bosnian demands and dismiss him.

In the deal Mr Akashi agreed to allow seven Serbian T-34 tanks to move through the exclusion zone from the Serbian stronghold of Pale east of the capital to the Trnovo region, west of Sarajevo. In exchange, the Serbs agreed to free 173 British peace-keepers detained by Serbian forces en route to the new exclusion zone around the mainly Muslim town of Goradze. The extra forces were urgently needed to increase the UN presence.

The British troops were released early Wednesday, but only after the Serbs had made them send back 18,000 rounds of rifle ammunition which the Serb forces charged was in excess of the amount agreed and was to be used to arm Muslims forces in Gorazde.

UN sources in Sarajevo said the tank affair had 'totally embarrassed' Mr Akashi and General Bertrand de Laspresle, commander of the UN forces in the former Yugoslavia.

The tank affair follows Mr Akashi's clash last month with Nato when he refused to authorise air strikes against Serbian forces then besieging Gorazde. The Muslims charge Mr Akashi with being lenient with the Serbs in an effort to preserve the overall humanitarian mission of the UN.

Meanwhile, the UN yesterday won agreement from the Bosnian Serb army for the deployment this weekend of 16 UN military observers at two observation posts on the Serbian side of the front line south of Brcko.

The observers will monitor troop movements in the area. The UN hopes this will discourage attacks to widen or cut the Serbs' Posavina corridor. This pre-emptive strike by the UN is aimed at 'preventing the explosion of a new crisis', said Sergio Vieira de Mello, head of UN civil affairs.

As a first step, the Bosnian Serb commander in the region gave Mr de Mello and his colleagues from the UN Protection Force a panoramic view of Brcko and the front lines beyond, marked by clouds of black smoke from tyres set alight by Serbian troops.

Five or six mosques in a Muslim-held town a few kilometres south of Brcko were visible through a binocular periscope on the 10th floor of a disused grain silo. Beyond the centre of Brcko, which is relatively intact, sit dozens of shattered houses, testimony to the fierce fighting which pushed the Muslims out.

Jonathan Eyal, page 19