UN seeks to wrest operational control from Nato: Scramble to prepare peace operation

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The Independent Online
FACING the biggest peace-keeping operation the United Nations has undertaken, officials at UN headquarters were scrambling yesterday to put together proposals for implementing the Bosnian peace plan, should it ever be formally accepted by the Serbs.

Top of the agenda was the delicate question of the command and control of the 70,000 troops that the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has said would be needed - ten times the number already engaged in the distribution of humanitarian aid. Up to half of the force will be provided by the US, whose generals did not take kindly to Mr Boutros-Ghali's warning that he intended the UN to have 'overall strategic and political control'.

In a report to the Security Council, Mr Boutros-Ghali said that although 'operational and tactical control' would be centred at Nato headquarters in Brussels, all troops would wear the UN blue beret, and he reserved the right to ask the Council for 'any measures he judged necessary to reorient, correct or even bring an end to the military operations'. He wants the top commander in Bosnia, who is expected to be an American, to report daily to the UN representative to the force, Thorwald Stoltenberg.

To US generals, reluctant to become involved in Bosnia, this smacked of too much UN control. Mr Boutros-Ghali's proposals were bowing to lobbying from the French, who do not take part in Nato military operations but contribute to the current force and will contribute to the new one.

In the next two weeks the implementation plan will be refined by Mr Boutros-Ghali in consultation with Nato. The Americans are expected to 'fine tune' their own concerns and end up in command of the operation. The local commander in Bosnia will report directly to Nato's commander in Europe, who is an American. As one Western diplomat put it: 'it makes sense, the Americans are the only ones who can launch an operation of this size'.

How much day-to-day control the UN will have depends largely on the task the UN forces will be required to perform. If the Serbs break the ceasefire, as may easily happen with their loosely-controlled militia, and the UN forces are called upon to react rapidly to put out 'bush fires', the question of Mr Stoltenberg's authority over the local theatre commander will be tested. Time constraints could rule out a meeting of the Security Council before action has to be taken. 'In the end, much will depend on the character of the commander in the field and how he interacts with Mr Stoltenberg,' said the diplomat.