UN military forces dig in for Bosnia stay

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United Nations forces in Bosnia are pressing ahead with reinforcements and may be reorganised - possibly giving Britain a more important role - in spite of recent suggestions that the UN might withdraw if the situation deteriorates. The UN here clearly plans to remain through winter and military engineers are racing to complete improvements to the mountain road, one of only two routes into central Bosnia by the time heavy rains come in October.

The first of 800 extra French troops to secure the planned 'safe area' round Sarajevo passed up the mountain road on Wednesday. They are the first of 7,500 extra troops needed to secure the six areas, although nobody knows where the rest will come from. If the extra troops requested by the UN are all deployed, it will double the size of Bosnia command to about 15,000 troops.

As more UN troops deploy they will put even greater strain on the headquarters at Kiseljak commanded by Lieutenant-General Paul Briquemont, who has replaced Lieutenant- General Philippe Morillon. General Briquemont has to deal with operational matters affecting five subordinate entities - four big battalion groups plus Sarajevo - on the one hand and higher political matters, the endless UN bureaucracy on the other. Present arrangements mean General Briquemont has to commute between his military HQ at Kiseljak and Sarajevo - the Bosnian capital and focus of political attention.

Rumours of possible reorganisation therefore abound in central Bosnia. Intermediate headquarters at 'one star' (brigade) level would take over much of the operational planning and co-ordination of different national battalions. One such headquarters might control Sarajevo, for example, one might control the east including another four 'safe areas' and one the rest of Bosnia.

The British, who already have a brigade HQ in Split, would be an obvious choice to command one of these brigades, although the decision would lie with the UN. The British have unparalleled expertise in this type of operation and have been in Bosnia nearly a year, gathering contacts and local knowledge. They also have unmatched engineering and logistic support - indeed, they already control the supplies and support for Bosnia command, which flow inland from the Croatian port of Split.

The British would therefore be front-runners for command of the southern brigade, comprising their own battalion group and the Spanish battalion responsible for the crucial Mostar road. The Spanish are overstretched and less well equipped than the British, would benefit from being under British command and do not seem to object to the idea.

The British HQ might therefore be responsible for the two routes into central Bosnia including the mountain road from Tomislavgrad and the excellent Mostar road from Metkovic. The Royal Engineers have greatly improved the 40-kilometre (25-mile) mountain stretch of the former, route 'triangle', with the southern half largely tarred and sections of the mountains blown up to straighten it and to reduce the gradients. In the last two weeks substantial improvements have become apparent. The British HQ in Split, responsible for the UN forces' logistics, wants this stretch completed, with culverts to carry away the heavy rains, by 1 October.

Sources here believe the local forces might agree to these arteries becoming 'super-blue routes', guaranteeing supplies to all factions, with trucks flowing in both directions in an endless stream. The faction commanders, exasperated by the indiscipline of local gangsters, would acknowledge the UN's right to deal summarily with anybody interfering with traffic on one of these routes. When British troops shot a Croatian sniper dead near Novi Travnik recently, the local commander, who had guaranteed them the right to use the route, supported their action.

These routes will be the only means of sustaining a population of more than 2 million which, unlike last winter, will be malnourished and entirely dependent on aid from outside. Some military sources believe that when winter comes, the problems of survival will force a halt to the fighting throughout the countryside.

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