UN threatens to quit Mt Igman: The refusal of Bosnian Muslim troops to abandon a vital mountain highlights the peace-keepers' impotence, writes Emma Daly in Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
HIGH ON the slopes of Mount Igman, a herd of white goats grazed in a clearing, ignoring 30-odd bedraggled Bosnian goverment soldiers who watched as French peace-keepers drove past. They made no attempt to hide from the UN, or to disguise the newly built timber bunkers that line the dirt road.

Close to the summit, Colonel Dominique Delawarde, whose task is to clear the area of combatants, gestured at the broken stones of a Bosnian command post, destroyed by his soldiers. 'I think we need several months to fulfil the clearing of this area,' he said, pointing to a hut a few yards down the wooded slope, still home to Bosnian troops.

Under an agreement brokered by the UN in August 1993, the slopes of Mt Igman and Mt Bjelasnica, west of the city, form a demilitarised zone (DMZ) - off limits to troops of the Bosnian government or the Bosnian Serbs. The Serbs, who took the mountain last year, were encouraged to leave by a Nato threat of air strikes. No such lever is available to dislodge the Bosnian forces who have recently infiltrated the area.

The Bosnian Serb leadership in the sleepy ski resort of Pale, has told the UN to remove about 500 Bosnian troops by today, or to let the Serbs do it.

It is probably an idle threat, intended to put pressure on the peace-keepers and the Sarajevo government.

Colonel Delawarde pointed across the valley to Serb-held territory. 'In this area (the Serbs) use Unprofor (UN protection force) as protection for their lines,' he said, 'as shock absorbers'. Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, has invoked what seems to be his only sanction: he has threatened to pull the French peace- keepers out of the DMZ.

There is a sense of deja vu about Mt Igman: once again the UN has been given a task it cannot fulfil, only this time it is the Muslims, not the Serbs, who are refusing to budge. 'The Serbs have ignored or obstructed or attacked the UN when and where they liked throughout the war. Now the Muslims think they can too,' one Western diplomat in Sarajevo said. 'The whole mission is in jeopardy because Unprofor (UN Protection Force) never set any limits.'

As winter approaches, the Bosnian crisis seems to be sinking deeper into the mud, dragged down by diplomatic disputes among the major powers over the peace process, a conflict over the use of Nato air power and the recalcitrance of the Bosnian Serbs.

Although the UN is attempting to fulfil its main mission - to feed the people of Bosnia - the aid operation is vulnerable to Serb pressure. This week a medical convoy was hijacked and looted, and a food convoy was shot at.

Sarajevans are not starving, but most of them are trapped. There is only one land route from the city, a twisting road down Mt Igman where vehicles are frequently fired on by the Serbs.

Willy Claes, the new secretary-general of Nato, yesterday warned of a possible worsening of the conflict. 'In that case,' he said, 'we must show those who alone stand in the way of peace that the international community is ready to take tougher measures, such as strictly enforcing (weapons) exclusion zones.' The UN in Bosnia fears 'tougher measures' will endanger its mission. 'You have to be very careful of how you use force, because of the reaction it might provoke,' one source said.

After the last Nato air strike on 22 September the Serbs closed Sarajevo airport for two weeks. It has reopened but the Bosnian Serbs refuse clearance for Unprofor fuel convoys. The fuel situation is now 'extremely critical', one UN spokesman said, with peace-keepers in the eastern enclaves down to a few days' supply. The Bosnian Serbs feel free to harass the peace- keepers.

Last Saturday was supposed to mark another Bosnian deadline - the Bosnian Serbs were to have accepted the latest peace plan, or Washington was going to lift the arms embargo on the Muslims. The US was persuaded to postpone lifting of the embargo for at least six months.

The Bosnian government fears the US will renege on its plan and the West will seek new concessions from the Muslim-led government.

The Bosnian Serbs have already spoken of a new, improved, proposal that will be more acceptable.

The Bosnian Serb leaders need a face-saving diplomatic intiative. They have told the UN their present situation - neither peace nor war - is untenable.

Diplomats say they are likely to increase the pressure on Unprofor, in the hope of forcing the big powers to resume the peace process.

'We are in a difficult position, undoubtedly,' one Unprofor official said.

'We might get pushed into a position where we have to use more force, or to one where we won't be able to do our job. But we're not at that stage yet.'

SALZBURG - A Serb is to appear today before a Salzburg court accused of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, AFP reports.

Dusko Cvjetkovic, 26, a political refugee in Austria, is accused of assassinating a young Muslim in 1992 at Kucice, a village north of Sarajevo.

He also faces charges of 'complicity in murder' of another Muslim resident of the village and over the deportation of two civilians to a concentration camp, where they died and of looting. If he is found guilty, Mr Cvjetkovic faces being jailed for life.

(Photograph omitted)