Straight road to Sarajevo leads to unfamiliar calm: Christopher Bellamy met a relaxed British commander of UN forces pondering the best route to lasting peace in the capital

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WE drove down the United Nations' auspiciously named Route Dove, through just one Bosnian Serb checkpoint east of Visoko. The road is open, despite the red tape, and a straight, fast run.

The Canadians rebuilt it, but the Serbs man it. There are no joint checkpoints with the UN, like those in the Croat and Muslim areas. The Serbs, in slate- blue camouflage, are punctilious and polite. In Sarajevo, even the traffic lights are working, with people going about their business.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose relaxed in his airy and informal office - white-walled and adorned with modern paintings - in what was once a residence of Tito, the former president of Yugoslavia. 'Two months ago (the Sarajevans) were in a city where there were 1,200 shells falling a day and they were living in cellars - a very uncivilised existence. Now life is returning to normal. It is irreversible because of . . . the will of the people . . . they do not want to go back.'

There have been ceasefire violations in recent days - a Serb assault on Gorazde, 'ethnic cleansing' around Prijedor - but compared with the destruction and horror inflicted on this land in the past two years, they are trivial. UN staff officers here dismiss speculation that the Muslims are using the opportunity provided by peace with the Croats to launch some form of co-ordinated attack against the Serbs.

General Rose also discounts the possibility of the Serbs overrunning the besieged but well- defended Muslim pocket of Gor azde. 'What is happening in Gorazde is clearly important and something which worries us but I don't think one should overstate the strategic consequences,' he said. 'There is limited (military) activity there in terms of opening routes and redefining defensive positions. But I cannot believe either side is going to make any major strategic changes to the area.'

General Rose says he still needs more UN troops to reinforce his success. He does not care where they come from. If there is a full peace agreement with the Bosnian Serbs as well - something he believes is possible, even likely - he will need 40,000 to 50,000 UN troops, rather than the 15,000 he has now.

Yesterday General Rose travelled to Zagreb to meet his new superior, General Bernard Lapresle, the French UN officer, partly to talk about the consequences of bringing the Serbs into the peace agreement, and partly about how to deploy the troops he is receiving after his last call for reinforcements.

Most prominent (and controversial) are 2,700 Turks, the first thousand of whom are expected to arrive within a fortnight. No decision has been made about where they will go in the former Yugoslavia, although it seems most likely that they will be placed under command of Brigadier John Reith, of the British UN forces, commanding a sector south-west of Gornji Vakuf.

Half of the Turks will be from engineer and logistic units, so it is likely that they will be of great use on the British-controlled supply route into central Bosnia, or in and around Mostar in the south. Other reinforcements that have recently arrived are 900 British, 800 French and 300 Russian troops. About 700 Ukrainians are due on 1 May and 150 Argentines are expected shortly.

'We are most seriously stretched in and around Sarajevo,' General Rose said. 'Then there are the pockets - Kiseljak and Vitez - and we certainly need more down in Mostar, and Gor azde. We're extending ourselves all the time. The weapons col lection sites are very troop- consuming.'

But Sarajevo was a potential problem because, he added, 'we haven't even pulled the two sides apart. They are still at war.'

(Photograph and map omitted)