Turkey's UN troops move stirs old Balkan rivalries: Divided Sarajevo takes first steps back to unity, but Ankara's offer of peace-keepers threatens to worsen row with Greece

Click to follow
TURKEY is poised to send troops to former Yugoslavia, a step that is alarming Serbia and Greece, and raising fears of an intensified power struggle among Balkan countries.

Turkey's deepening involvement in the Yugoslav crisis coincides with Greek efforts to form a unified defence area with Cyprus, a measure that indicates how instability in the Balkans is merging with traditional Greek-Turkish rivalry.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, recommended to the Security Council on Tuesday that Turkey should contribute soldiers to the UN Protection Force, (Unprofor), which currently has more than 33,000 troops, military observers and policemen on duty in former Yugoslavia. The UN had previously excluded Turkey from its operations to avoid stirring memories of the centuries of Ottoman rule in the Balkans.

But Turkey lobbied hard for the ban to be lifted, particularly after Russia - another traditional rival - deployed troops in Sarajevo who have shown open sympathy with the Bosnian Serbs. Turkey has offered to send 1,000 troops to central Bosnia to monitor the recent Muslim-Croat peace deal.

The Bosnian Serb Vice-President, Biljana Plavsic, warned last week that the conflict could get worse if Turkish soldiers were sent to the republic. For its part, Greece urged the Security Council yesterday to keep Turkish troops out of former Yugoslavia, saying the region did not need new tensions.

Such tensions continue to plague the divided island of Cyprus, where the UN envoy, Joe Clark, reported yesterday that Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders had failed to agree on confidence-building measures between the two communities. The UN hopes to reopen Nicosia airport and the disused port of Varosha for both peoples and place them under UN control as a prelude to a general Cyprus settlement.

Greece's Defence Minister, Yerasimos Arsenis, visited Cyprus this month to discuss forming a united defence zone and upgrading the military potential of the Greek Cypriot government.

He said that 'Hellenism's defence area' stretched from Thrace across the Aegean Sea to Cyprus and denounced the presence of Turkish troops in the northern part of the island.

Greece has watched with concern as Turkey has gradually developed close relations with the Bosnian Muslims, Albania and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Greece has countered this trend by drawing closer to Serbia and Russia, its fellow Orthodox powers. It also recently slapped a virtual trade embargo on the Macedonian republic, ostensibly on the grounds that its neighbour had territorial pretensions on Greece.

The UN decision to include Turkish soldiers in former Yugoslavia was influenced by the need to raise up to 11,000 extra troops to keep the peace in Sarajevo and central Bosnia.

Without Turkish participation, the UN argued, that target could not be reached. The Greek gov ernment indicated yesterday that it would not insist on sending soldiers to Bosnia if Turkish troops are deployed there. Nevertheless, the competition for Balkan influence may well grow sharper in coming months.