Scandals dog UN peace-keepers

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ZAGREB - United Nations troops have been accused of the illegal import of bullion to Croatia, and administrative chaos in former Yugoslavia, writes Robert Fisk.

Top of the list of problems at the headquarters of the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) in Zagreb is a row with the Croatian government over attempts by Nepalese troops to bring dollars 1m ( pounds 700,000) of gold and silver into Zagreb airport for re-export - as a perk of peace-keeping duties. The government seized the bullion on 13 November and is prosecuting two Croatians for 'economic crime'.

Cedric Thornberry, the British deputy chief of mission for the UN in what was Yugoslavia, wrote twice to the Croatian government asking for its return. 'We should very much appreciate it if you could intervene to have this matter resolved in time for these soldiers to be able to take back with them the gold and silver which represents their savings over a period of months,' Mr Thornberry wrote in December to Jure Radic, President Franjo Tudjman's chef de cabinet.

The Croatian security police filmed UN troops at Zagreb airport as they arrived to take delivery of the 4,600 kg of silver and 880 oz of gold from Switzerland.

Nepalese troops, who are understood to be forbidden to import hard currency to their own country, have traditionally spent UN earnings abroad on goods which can be taken home. At least nine Nepalese soldiers from the battalion based around the Serb- held town of Okucani are said to have been court-martialled on their return from Croatia in December.

UN troops are also increasingly being accused by Croatians and Bosnians of accepting significant amounts of hard currency - up to pounds 1,500 - to take Bosnians trapped inside Sarajevo out of the besieged city.

Administrative disarray is also causing deep concern among UN units. Of the French army's armoured vehicle fleet in Sarajevo, more than half were, until recently, out of service for lack of spare parts.

From the Serb-Bosnian border to Zagreb, UN officers have been threatened with eviction from billets because the their accommodation has not been paid for - in some cases since last spring. Outside Belgrade, the UN's logistics base has had its gas cut off because its bill had not been paid for more than six months.