Gen MacKenzie slams UN's nine-to-fivers

THE United Nations is an incompetent organisation, which has succeeded only in endangering the lives of its troops in Bosnia, according to the former head of UN forces in Sarajevo, Major-General Lewis MacKenzie.

Most countries are dissatisfied with the way UN military missions are run, and would like the arrangements reorganised, Gen MacKenzie told the Independent on Sunday yesterday.

The Canadian commander, who has often criticised Western intervention in the Balkans, told a defence conference in Ottawa on Friday: 'Countries don't give their troops to the UN in trust to be killed trying to implement a really lousy ceasefire agreement arranged by a bunch of diplomats and politicians . . . That's what's happening in Yugoslavia.'

The plan that was put into place 'never had a chance of working', the general said, and 'now people are dying'.

Gen MacKenzie, 52, won international praise for his command of the UN forces which were sent to Sarajevo last year and secured the airport to allow delivery of humanitarian aid to the besieged city.

He contemptuously dismissed the bureaucrats at the UN's New York headquarters as 'a nine-to-five civilian operation', and offered this advice to future commanders: 'Do not get into trouble as a commander in the field after 5pm New York time, or Saturday and Sunday. There is no one to answer the phone.'

Yesterday, the general was unrepentant. 'The UN has admitted it doesn't have a 24-hour capability - phone calls to New York get dealt with the next day. Most countries want an operation centre run by people familiar with the mission, which can respond to your request immediately. It's standard military procedure.'

General Satish Nambiar, commander of the UN forces in the former Yugoslavia (Unprofor) rejected the accusations, saying the only problems were 'administrative'. But Cedric Thornberry, Gen Nambiar's deputy, admitted that the UN did not have all its 'support machinery' in place. 'Like many splendid peace-keepers, (Gen MacKenzie) fails to get to the heart of the problem,' he said. 'The UN is the sum total of what governments want us to be.

'There are a lot of questions on the future of UN peace-keeping. In Cambodia, in Angola, in Somalia and, by God, Yugoslavia, we are put in on the basis of an agreement between parties to renounce the use of force and behave like little gentlemen. We have resources appropriate to policing the agreement, but not to enforcing it.

'To do this, we would need five or 10 times the resources, and governments which are prepared to face their parliaments and explain why the bodybags are coming back.

'For the United Kingdom, this would mean, pro rata, committing perhaps 20,000 troops to Yugoslavia, and accepting a very high rate of casualties.'

Gen MacKenzie, who retires from his post in the Canadian armed forces on 8 March, is thought to be planning to enter politics.

He is an enormously popular and high-profile figure in Canada, and Brian Mulroney's ruling Conservatives and Jean Chretien's Liberals are believed to be courting him to run as an MP in the next election.

(Photograph omitted)