UN chief earns White House praise

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was publicly and, more significantly, privately praised by the US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, for asking Nato to authorise air strikes to protect all 'safe areas' in Bosnia. It was precisely what the US wanted, and Washington had nudged the Secretary-General into the decision - in the best diplomatic manner, of course.

Under attack all day for doing nothing to relieve what Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, called the coming humanitarian catastrophe in the beseiged town of Gorazde, Mr Boutros-Ghali had to act. He called Ms Albright while she was consulting on Bosnia with President Clinton at the White House, and in the words of an Albright aide, she 'did not dissuade him' from writing the letter to Nato. Importantly, both the US and Britain had advised that no new Security Council resolution was needed.

The letter had similar language to the one Mr Boutros-Ghali sent to Nato last February asking for pin-prick strikes, known as Close Air Support, against Serb forces threatening UN personnel. But Monday's letter calls for a much wider authority: a comprehensive use of air power against any Serb forces that threaten the seven 'safe areas', including Gorazde and Sarajevo.

Monday's move is also bolder than February's in another important sense, and shows greater resolve on the Secretary-General's part to confront the Serbs. In February, Mr Boutros-Ghali's request for air strikes was pushing against an open door: Nato members had already agreed to convene a meeting and the US, Britain and France had already agreed to authorise air strikes. This time there was no such agreement on widening the use of air power: Britain, in particular, was still concerned about putting at risk its ground forces.

Assuming Mr Boutros-Ghali's request is granted, however, the UN forces in Bosnia will in effect have a powerful new tool to use against the Serbs. Nato has at its disposal more than 100 aircraft in Italy and on British, French and American aircraft carriers in the Adriatic.

The question is what will Nato and the UN do with such power? Will they demand withdrawal of all Serb forces to a certain distance from the safe areas. Will the planes be ordered to destroy only tanks or other weapons that violate the new orders, or will back-up military facilities be included?

In sending his new request, Mr Boutros-Ghali met opposition from the Russians who had insisted on a new meeting of the Security Council to sanction the move. But Mr Boutros-Ghali accepted the US and British position that all the legal authority was already in place in Resolutions 824 and 836, which authorises all necessary means to be used by UN forces to ensure the security of the safe areas.

(Photograph omitted)