Washington attacks Akashi over Serb tanks

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The Independent Online
THE United States, in a new sign of its frustration over United Nations handling of events in Bosnia, has censured Yasushi Akashi, the UN's special envoy to the former Yugoslavia. In an unprecedented public complaint at his conduct, it accuses Mr Akashi of constantly giving in to Serbian demands.

'We would like to see him do a better job,' a State Department spokeswoman, Christine Shelly, said yesterday.

'We would not like to see him acquiesce in actions which violate the exclusion zone' - a reference to the Serbian tanks which have been allowed to move across the supposedly weapons-free zone around Sarajevo.

Ms Shelly said Washington strongly objected to the tank movements (five in all have been permitted through the zone, while two more were the subject of negotiation), and had conveyed its views to senior UN officials. Ms Shelly said the US recognised Mr Akashi's job was 'extremely difficult' and was not calling for his resignation. But her broadside may have brought closer such a step.

In Geneva, the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, stated confidence in his envoy, insisting there was 'no question' of his replacement.

US anger over the UN's unwillingness to get tough with the Serbs surfaced last month, when Mr Akashi refused to permit Nato air strikes on Serbian positions during the siege of Gorazde. Bosnia's collective presidency accused him of 'practically taking part in the aggression on Bosnia-Herzegovina'.

Nato has voiced unease over the Serbian weapons movements in designated safe areas. From the Alliance's point of view, said Nato's Supreme Commander in Europe, General George Joulwan, 'it is very difficult when Nato does not control what happens on the ground'.

The tank movements were linked to the release by Serbs of 160 British UN troops, held hostage since Sunday. In the case of the fifth tank, which was permitted through on Thursday evening, UN spokesmen said peace-keeping troops had no choice, after the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, had threatened to use force.

The purpose of the movements was unclear. Observers believe the tanks are moving from the Serbian stronghold of Pale, east of Sarajevo, to Trnovo, to the south. Mr Akashi has said they were never in a position to attack the Bosnian capital.

Originally two more tanks were to be permitted to cross the exclusion zone yesterday afternoon. But the UN said it would stop them 'when they appear,' and that further negotiations would be held.

Bosnian Muslim and Croat leaders, who recently formed a Bosnian federation and renewed their military alliance against Serbs, are to hold talks in Vienna today. The Serbs said they would meet a Muslim commander, General Hazim Sadic, to try to arrange a ceasefire in the volatile Brkco area in northern Bosnia.

UN officials said UN military observers would move into Serb-held Brcko over the weekend, joining monitors already in place in Croat and Muslim-held sectors around the town.

SARAJEVO - A Bosnian Serb tank disappeared from UN surveillance yesterday less than half a mile from the centre of Sarajevo, while travelling from the Serbian stronghold of Pale to a barracks at Lukavica, on the capital's outskirts, a UN military source said, AFP reports. The source said the tank disappeared close to Grbavica, a suburb held by the Serbs in the exclusion zone around Sarajevo.