UN chief calls for peace-keepers to quit Bosnia quagmire

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The Independent Online
THE United Nations Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, yesterday recommended pulling the 35,000 UN troops out of the Bosnian conflict in case of a peace pact, saying only major powers like the United States could enforce it. He also called for a virtual withdrawal of UN forces if there is no peace plan, and the big powers carry out threats to use force to against Bosnian combatants.

The recommendation was made in a letter to the Security Council, taking envoys by surprise. A US official said that the Security Council, and not Mr Boutros-Ghali, would decide whether to pull out troops. He also said the letter would not change the Contact Group's determination to consider further measures.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's announcement comes at a time when the UN operation faces a crisis in Croatia and Bosnia. Croatia's rebel Serbs, who hold almost a third of the country, have offered to resume peace talks with the Croatian government, a month after the last round of negotiations between the warring sides collapsed. Milan Martic, President of the self-styled 'Republic of Serbian Krajina', in south-west Croatia, has twice written to the UN, offering to hold economic talks. But although the diplomat brokering the talks predicted fresh negotiations, another analyst described the offer as 'a game'.

Under a truce signed on 29 April, Croatia and Knin, the capital of Krajina, were to hold talks on renewing economic links. But last month a meeting due to be held in Plitvice, in Krajina, was abandoned when the Serbs barred Croatian journalists from the talks. Kai Eide, the Norwegian mediator, said yesterday: 'We can expect to resume negotiations rather soon.' He added: 'We needed a signal from the Serbs that they were ready to negotiate. I do expect that we will be able to re-open the talks.'

But this view was undermined by a UN analyst who said that Knin's offer was merely an attempt to avoid total isolation. 'It's a game,' he said. 'I do not see the possibility of any economic talks which would be meaningful, because there is nothing to agree on until the major political question is settled, and that is inconceivable while the drums of war are rolling all over Bosnia.'

The economy of Krajina was shattered by the war. But the promise of trade with the rest of Croatia has not enticed Krajina's Serbs to break ties with Belgrade.

Mr Martic is wedded to the dream of greater Serbia. His latest move may be a tactic inspired by Belgrade, to keep alive the hope of negotiations without doing anything. It might help President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia to check the right-wingers agitating for military action against the Serbs. Nationalists in Croatia's ruling party may be behind a blockade of checkpoints between Croatia and Serb-held areas which has paralysed the UN mission there.