Nato to consider plan to tackle Serbs

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NATO defence ministers meeting today are to discuss contingency plans for military intervention against Serbia, although yesterday the former commander of United Nations forces in Sarajevo warned that any further intervention could provoke gruesome reprisals from those 'intervened against' - the Serbs - against local people or captured UN troops.

Nato sources said ministers from the 16 Nato countries meeting in Brussels will discuss what to do if the UN approves a shut- down of airspace over Bosnia, air strikes against Serbian targets or the deployment of peace-keepers to troubled areas such as Kosovo. Maj Gen Lewis Mackenzie, who commanded UN peace-keeping forces in Sarajevo earlier this year, told the Royal United Services Institute in London that US intervention in Somalia had 'completely turned the corner' of UN peace-keeping operations, in the new direction of 'humanitarian force'. The 'thou shalt not interefere' mentality had been overturned; humanitarian need was now the criterion.

Speaking on 'Military realities of peace-keeping operations', he said the media was 'the only major weapons system I had. In a number of cases the media had more impact on keeping the peace and reducing atrocities than the peace-keeping personnel'. In other cases, the warring sides would try to exploit the media. Other sources have confirmed that the Bosnians have launched attacks on their own people to try to gain sympathy.

Gen Mackenzie said that Somalia, where US marines landed yesterday, was a relatively simple task. On a scale of one to 10, it rated perhaps one, whereas Bosnia was eight or nine.

Gen Mackenzie said the increasing number of peace-keeping operations required, above all, well-trained infantry, an increasingly scarce resource, in Britain as in Canada, where Gen Mackenzie now commands the central area's land forces.

Afterwards, he told journalists: 'In the event that a military intervention took place, naturally there are concerns about the security of the forces on the ground. One of the techniques that is possible is that villages would be taken hostage by whoever is being intervened against.

'If you move to massive military intervention in an attempt to pacify the nation and you still have peace-keeping forces on the ground, they will become potential targets. I must say most of us would do that if we were faced with that particular dilemma.'

Gen Mackenzie said the present British involvement in Bosnia represented about the limit of what could be justified under Chapter VI of the UN Charter: 'Pacific Settlement of Disputes'. Any more firepower than that would mean straying into Chapter VII - military action - and might provoke hostage-taking and atrocities. Although accounts of atrocities have been exaggerated, other military sources confirm cases of children in Bosnia being impaled or burnt.

Gen Mackenzie is known to oppose further intervention. Even so, he said, the forces for such operations needed to be 'combat- trained and combat-equipped troops - not that different from any mid-intensity conflict'. He attributed the few casualties sustained so far to the excellent training and equipment of the UN forces involved. Gen Mackenzie said the title of the UN force - Unprofor - was unfortunate, as it suggested 'protecting' one side or the other, and thus taking sides.

He dismissed historical examples widely quoted by opponents of intervention. 'The last thing a peace-keeper wants to know is the history of the region you are going to. That drives the people there crazy, because they want to blame the other side for everything.' Once he had come under fire and a reporter asked: 'Who fired the first shot?'

'Somebody 200 years ago but that's not the problem around here,' he had replied.