Macedonia role for UN observers

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NEW YORK - Learning from its painful mistakes in Bosnia, the United Nations intends to deploy a battalion-strength force of military observers in Macedonia to try to head off conflict there before the dispute over international recognition spills over into war, writes Leonard Doyle.

The new UN observer force, made up of captains and majors, will initially be drawn from the UN force in Croatia, where it is monitoring the ceasefire between Croatia and Serbia in the so-called UN-protected areas.

The unusually large-scale deployment in Macedonia should be under way by Christmas, according to diplomatic sources. It follows the harsh criticism the UN and its member states received for failing to deploy preventive forces in Bosnia. It is not expected to meet any resistance.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the UN in the Balkans to date has been the reluctance of member states and the UN bureaucracy to exercise preventive deployment when countries or communities in trouble appeal for help. Bosnia begged for UN intervention this time last year, but the assistance only arrived when much of the country had been lost to Serbian forces and tens of thousands of civilians had been killed.

Macedonia is also facing an energy crisis, with Greece preventing petrol supplies from reaching the country and with Serbia demanding a cut in transshipments of oil. Oil shipments to Macedonia must come by rail from Bulgaria via Serbian territory or from Greece.

The UN sanctions committee does not want to approve transshipment to Macedonia via Serbia because it knows the oil may never reach there, and Greece is using oil as a weapon because of its outrage over the country's use of the name Macedonia.

The President of Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov, has proposed the 'Republic of Macedonia (Scopje)' to solve the year-old dispute with Greece over the nation's name.

ATHENS - Greece angrily warned its EC partners yesterday that it would suppress any effort at the summit this week to recognise Macedonia, Reuter reports.

'We will veto EC recognition,' said a government spokesman, Vassilis Magginas. 'The republic must drop the term Macedonia from its name.'