French UN troops told to keep heads down

Sarajevo - United Nations commanders in Bosnia are issuing conflicting guidelines to troops about the use of force in Sarajevo, writes Emma Daly.

Major-General Herve Gobilliard, French commander of UN forces in Sarajevo, this weekend told his troops to avoid confronting either Serbs or government forces, to reduce the risk to French peace-keepers.

"I do not want to accept any more casualties," he said, according to a UN transcript of the staff meeting. "Under no circumstances will we engage either warring party [in ways] which might put the life of one of our soldiers in jeopardy."

Two French soldiers have been shot dead in Sarajevo in the past month, and a third was critically wounded last week.

UN officials in the Bosnian capital say Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, overall commander of UN troops in Bosnia, was not consulted by General Gobilliard. They believe the orders came from Paris.

Last week, General Smith reminded commanders of their troops' right to fire back at anyone threatening their safety or that of civilians. He wanted to encourage a more robust response from the French, and from other troops, who are reluctant to use force against their tormentors.

"There is a certain contradiction," one UN official said. "The French are going to bend over backwards not to get anyone shot, and if it means they're not going to perform as well ..."

To minimise risk, the French could cut dangerous patrols. But the deterrent effect of the UN presence, for example along Sniper Alley, depends on the proximity of peace-keepers to civilians. Serb marksmen might now feel freer to target pedestrians and peace-keepers.