Overload for peace-keepers: Three-month wait for troops to Bosnia as UN accused of bad management

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The Independent Online
UNITED Nations peace-keeping operations are so overloaded that additional troops will not arrive in Bosnia to protect the six so-called 'safe havens' for three months, according to UN officials.

This estimate comes at a time when the UN is fending off strong criticism of its operation against the warlords in Somalia, and its inability to prevent continuing bloodshed in Bosnia. 'The demands on the organisation have outpaced its capabilities,' said John Bolton, who was the Bush administration's liaison official with the UN.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has decided that at least 7,500 additional troops, backed by air power, should be sent to Bosnia to protect civilians in the six 'safe areas'. By the end of this month the UN will have 90,000 troops in trouble spots around the world, including the crisis points of Somalia, Bosnia and Cambodia.

Yesterday, the head of peace- keeping operations, Kofi Annan, said diplomatically that the governments working with the UN 'would have to be more forthcoming' in producing forces to match the string of new operations ordered by the Security Council. 'We are beginning to sense difficulty in getting the forces,' he said, understating the case.

Peace-keeping operations have never been under such strain. In Cambodia, the mission is under threat after the government refused to accept its defeat in UN-organised elections. In Bosnia, the Serbs have not agreed to allow reinforcements into the designated 'safe areas', and UN member states have been slow to offer more troops.

In Somalia, the UN is trying to repair its broken image as a peace-keeper after 20 demonstrators, including women and children, were killed when Pakistani troops fired on a threatening crowd. The killings came a week after 23 Pakistanis had been killed and 54 wounded, apparently on the orders of General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Somali warlord.

The Pakistani ambassador to the UN, Jamsheed Marker, yesterday defended the Pakistani action, saying the UN troops had returned fire from followers of Gen Aideed who had concealed themselves behind the women and children in the crowd, and as snipers on rooftops. They had fired into the crowd and at the Pakistanis, he said. The UN is conducting an inquiry into the incident.

Because the UN mission in Somalia had succeeded in fighting off starvation by getting food aid to the population, the UN will weather the storm over the killings of civilians, but the challenge to disarm Gen Aideed and bring him to justice goes to the heart of the UN's peace-keeping problems.

When the 23 Pakistanis were killed they were distributing food to local people, were lightly armed and unable to call up support from other units, such as helicopters, because of communications difficulties. At the demonstration a week later, the Pakistanis had none of the essential means of riot control available to Western armies, such as tear-gas.

Earlier, Mr Annan said there was an urgent need to equip UN forces with riot-control gear, and the UN has asked member nations for supplies. Mr Marker pointed out the need for better communications equipment, a constant refrain from countries involved in peace-keeping.

The special problem in all three crisis operations - in Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia - is that the power brokers in the Security Council, including the United States, Britain and France, who steer through the peace-keeping resolutions on which the UN secretariat must act, do not have compelling political interests in those countries. The result, often, is a lack of political will to do the job, which in turn results in delays in new missions and a growing credibility problem for the UN.