UN general scorns intervention

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The Independent Online
LEWIS MACKENZIE, the Canadian general who commanded the United Nations peace-keeping operations in Sarajevo, says further Western military intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina will only prolong the fighting in the Balkans.

Major-General MacKenzie has just returned to Canada after five months dodging mortars, artillery fire and snipers in Sarajevo to negotiate the reopening of the airport and the distribution of relief supplies. He believes the kind of military intervention envisaged in the UN Security Council's resolution is likely to escalate into an uncontrollable situation where 'too many people will get killed in a misguided attempt to make peace'. He says the mere possibility of intervention, especially a US military presence, is encouraging the Bosnian Muslims to continue military action rather than concentrate on peace negotiations.

On Tuesday, the debonair 52-year-old general, who drives racing cars for fun, used his appearance before the Senate Armed Forces Committee in Washington to warn against the world's rush to involve itself in the civil war between Serbs, Muslims and Croats in Bosnia.

In an interview with the Independent, he explained why he believes there is no military solution in Bosnia and that a UN withdrawal would be preferable to a huge intervention. 'In my opinion, it is certainly feasible to escort humanitarian convoys if you throw adequate resources at it. But you shouldn't start thinking you can limit involvement to just that because very quickly the potential exists for those convoys to be engaged (by the local forces) so that pressure is brought to bear to expand the fighting.'

As soon as escorts are killed, he said, 'the temptation is to escalate the scenario so the people who are doing the escorting have even more force in order to get the convoys through'.

General MacKenzie said it was not possible to have a 'surgical' intervention and said that air cover would be of little value. He estimated that at least 90,000 ground troops would be required to 'sanitise' between 15 and 18km of territory around the Split to Sarajevo corridor.

To attempt a total military pacification in Bosnia would take a force equivalent to the resources mobilised by the allies in the Gulf war, he said, and in the Gulf, the allies had a relatively sophisticated infrastructure in Saudi Arabia to build on. 'My concern is that if you pacify Bosnia and Herzegovina and you leave without these hatreds being resolved by some constitutional resolution, it will start all over again.

'If you believe that some day everyone is going to shake hands and make up and everyone's going to live happily ever after . . . I stopped reading fairy tales when I was five years old.'

General MacKenzie said that although President Bush wants any US military involvement to be limited and that the United States does not want to be dragged into another Vietnam, that is the scenario the Bosnian Muslim government is counting on. He cited recent comments by a senior adviser to President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia who was quoted as saying: 'Let Bush come with humanitarian aid, take control of the roads, get his troops or his helicopters shot at . . . and pretty soon he'll find he's fighting the same war as us.'

A veteran of eight UN peace-keeping operations, General MacKenzie said he had negotiated 17 different ceasefires in Sarajevo; the longest lasted for four days. His political solution would be to 'rip the rug of intervention out' and force people to sit down and talk.

(Photograph omitted)