Unassuming commander with taste for peace

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LIEUTENANT-GENERAL Sir Michael Rose has taken to the limelight with ease, writes Christopher Bellamy. Yet he has perhaps the most difficult military job in the world at the moment and, so far, is coping confidently. He is inspired perhaps by a verse from James Flecker's poem The Golden Journey to Samarkand:

We are the pilgrims, master; we shall go

Always a little further; it may be

Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow,

Across that angry or that glimmering sea.

The verse, which appears on the clock tower at the Special Air Service (SAS) barracks in Hereford, is well known to the general, who has spent much of his career in that shadowy world. But in just seven weeks, Lt-Gen Rose has already gone a little further - some might say a lot further - than his predecessors.

Never before in the 23-month history of the Bosnian civil war has a ceasefire lasted as long or worked on such a scale. Bosnian Serb and Muslim forces pulled their artillery back from Sarajevo, and on Monday the Muslim-Croat war in central Bosnia officially ended. This has been due partly to the real threat of Nato air-strikes, and partly because of war-weariness on all sides.

But the personality and the mental flexibility of Lt-Gen Rose have been cardinal in hammering out the ceasefire, while his pleas for additional troops have struck a chord in Britain. He is recognised as an exceptional and unconventional officer the Government has been forced to take notice of.

Sir Michael possesses considerable charm and the confidence conferred by a comfortable background and education. He is a connoisseur and collector of watercolours. He comes over as a natural member of the boss classes.

A pleasant demeanour has eased his path to what is probably the most demanding politico-military post in the world at the moment: commander of the UN forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is a post for which luck, life and career have prepared him almost perfectly.

His fondness for unusual ways round problems, demonstrated in the Falklands, makes him perfectly suited for his present command. It is not the approach he would have encountered on joining the Guards at the rather late age of 24 in 1964, but one he developed in his career in the Special Forces.

His career pattern is not untypical of a successful general: Oxford, preceded by a six-month spell at the Sorbonne, where he acquired fluent French - an asset when dealing with his Gallic colleagues; then the Guards, serving in Aden, Germany and Northern Ireland. Next came the rigorous SAS selection process, and service as a company commander in the guerrilla desert war in Oman. He returned to command the SAS from 1979 to 1982, during the Iranian embassy siege and the Falklands war.

As in medicine, the rule in military operations - and particularly peace support operations - is 'if it works, don't mess with it'. And this is the approach he has used.

Reggie Alton was a Fellow at St Edmund Hall, who knew Michael Rose as a member of the College Picture Committee.

'He's terribly modest,' said Mr Alton. 'He wouldn't hurt a fly except in the cause of business. He wasn't a bit gung-ho . . . I'm very surprised when I hear him made out to be gung-ho. When he was told about the Bosnia appointment he took it as a position of enormous responsibility. He seems to be doing a good job, doesn't he?'

(Photograph omitted)