UN general under fire for kid-glove approach to Serbs: Spotlight falls on General Rose over plight of Sarajevo - Nato criticises UN for its reluctance to use air power

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THE BRITISH commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, faces increasing scrutiny by Nato and United Nations diplomats in New York for his handling of the escalating crisis in Sarajevo. There has been a serious deterioration in the Bosnian capital's situation recently and General Rose faces pressure to use Nato air power against the Bosnian Serbs, to bring conditions under control.

Nato has written to UN headquarters in New York to express dismay over UN resistance to air strikes against the Serbs, for what it considers clear violations of UN Security Council resolutions. Nato has demanded an explanation. UN military sources in Sarajevo yesterday said General Rose had threatened air power against the Serbs unless they withdraw heavy weapons from an exclusion zone around the city. However, these reports were later dismissed by a UN spokesman.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer said the UN would monitor Bosnian Serb undertakings to withdraw at least three big guns from the 12-mile exclusion zone. But he added: 'The word ultimatum has been used fairly loosely recently. There was no specific time frame mentioned.'

The Serbs complied with UN demands yesterday, boosting General Rose's position. But conflicting reports about the use of threats against Serbs, and the time-lag between warning and compliance, angered many diplomats as well as the Bosnian government.

General Rose's relaxed attitude towards the Serbs contrasts sharply with his threat on Sunday to use air power against mainly- Muslim government forces for their attack on Serb positions near Sarajevo. General Rose accused the Muslims of trying to provoke the Serbs into retaliating, to force Nato to order air strikes against the Serbs. The Bosnian government called off its troops, which it claimed were trying to break the Serbs' grip on gas and electrical supplies.

That General Rose should threaten the Muslims while the UN does little more than issue formal condemnations of the Serb blockade and the eviction of thousands of Muslims from Serb-held areas of northern Bosnia raises questions over the UN's handling of the conflict.

'The attempt to apply the same threats against the Bosnian government as against the Bosnian Serbs at this moment is deplorable,' one Bosnian UN diplomat in New York said yesterday.

However, a top UN official defended General Rose for tackling what he said was a Muslim violation of the exclusion zone during its attack. Nevertheless, the diplomat agreed that its was 'extremely unwise' for General Rose to have made his threat public, 'especially considering he knows it was not one which Nato would have been likely to carry out'.

General Rose has defended his actions, likening the warring parties in Bosnia to stubborn mules. 'If you've ever seen an old muleteer, he coaxes the animal up the road by blowing in its nostrils and whispering in its ear. It's a matter of psychology,' he said.

Western diplomats question whether there is much point in trying to cajole the Bosnian Serbs, given their history of broken promises. They pointed out that the reason why General Rose has kept Sarajevo safe from shelling for the past seven months was Nato's resolve to use air power against the Serbs after the shelling of a Sarajevo market last February, which killed 68 people and outraged world public opinion. 'He (General Rose) thinks he persuaded the Serbs to do the right thing by reasoning with them. In fact, Nato got their attention,' one Sarajevo diplomat said.

The UN Security Council is considering tighter sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs for rejecting the peace plan, dividing Bosnia between a Muslim-Croat federation and the Serbs. The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, yesterday threatened to sever relations with the UN if more sanctions are imposed.

NEW YORK - The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, ordered contingency plans yesterday for the withdrawal of the 40,000-strong UN operation in the Balkans, if the arms embargo is lifted in Bosnia and the war intensifies around so-called safe zones, Reuter reports.