Rose leaves UN force to its own fate

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The Independent Online
UNLOVED, under fire and now unwanted - pity the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia, dispatched with the best of intentions to help two member states at war with rebel armies. The Bosnia commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Mich ael Rose, leaves tomorrow to government cries of "good riddance" - but at least in Bosnia the troops stay on. The entire UN mission in Croatia has been told to pack its bags.

The Bosnian Serbs, magnanimous in semi-victory, gave the general a portrait and a few kind words; their cousins in Croatia, supposed beneficiaries of the UN presence, are indifferent to its plight. "The UN is free to leave the Krajina [Serb-held Croatia ] at any time - in their underwear," said a Krajina Serb officer. "Of course, they will have to leave all their equipment."

Peace-keeping is a thankless task in the Balkans, one made all the harder by the chasm between rhetoric and reality, between the pious words of the Security Council and the absence of action from member states. In the three years since the arrival of Unprofor in former Yugoslavia, the 45,000 troops stationed here have tempered the bloodshed and fed the starving, but have not resolved the conflict. They have administered first aid, but cannot cure the patient.

"We cannot impose peace here - that is up to the parties," says General Rose, and his civilian boss, Yasushi Akashi, and their predecessors, agree. It is true. But given the paper promises of the big powers, through the UN - to reintegrate Krajina into Croatia and disarm those Serbs, to maintain Bosnia's territorial integrity - it is not surprising Sarajevo and Zagreb complain of the UN's failures.

Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Prime Minister, remarked recently of General Rose, the personification of UN evil for Sarajevo: "It's better both for him and for Bosnia that he is leaving." President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia concurred: "Given the present inefficient Unprofor mission, Croatia finds the continued presence of Unprofor in the occupied territories to be significantly counter-productive to the peace process."

Mr Tudjman was taking a leaf from the Serb handbook - treat the UN mean and keep it keen - but it remains to be seen whether he can pull off the trick perfected by the Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale. The Croatian President insists the peace-keepers are

out on 31 March; the Krajina Serbs believe he is bluffing, hoping to blackmail the world into giving Zagreb more of what it wants for fear of a wider Balkan conflict if the UN leaves.

"Unprofor has made a big contribution to this region - they've succeeded in keeping a peace, or at least a ceasefire," said Slobodan Blagojevic, mayor of Vojnic, a small, shabby town in northern Krajina where olive drab is a way of life. "We're expectin g them to stay. But we're not afraid of the Croatian military threat, and if Unprofor withdraws, we're prepared to fight for our freedom."

Mr Blagojevic and other Serbs interviewed in Vojnic expressed the conventional wisdom: that if the UN leaves, a resumption of war is inevitable, possibly involving Serbia again. This is the doomsday scenario; the alternative, the Serbs say, is at the very least political isolation and economic hardship for Zagreb. Therefore "Tudjman won't do it", they say.

Of course, if the Serbs in Krajina, a bleak, empty borderland where fridges, stoves and washing machines sit forlornly in ragged fields amid the ruins of burnt and looted houses, were to follow rational arguments in their own case, they would probably look to Zagreb rather than Belgrade for political accommodation and financial links. But reason does not drive policy, particularly in Zagreb, Knin and Pale: the engine is fuelled by raw nationalistic passion and the desire for power.

This leaves the international community and its proxies in the UN with a dilemma similar to that it faces in Bosnia. It could harden the mandate in Croatia, as Zagreb has demanded, and force the Krajina Serbs to comply with the peace plan by disarming them and allowing the return of refugees. And it could force the Bosnian Serbs to surrender territory as envisaged by the Contact Group plan. But both scenarios would require the big powers to fight - and they don't want to.

One alternative is more of the same: dampen down the fighting in the hope that somehow, somewhere, it will lead to a political deal. The risk is that, without sufficient progress, the Sarajevo government, like its ally in Zagreb, will re-arm and threatena return to total war.

The third possibility - and one that is being suggested in cross muttering by fed-up UN staff - is just to pull out, let everybody fight it out, and see who comes out on top. It may yet come to that - the failure of Western policy paid in the blood of Balkan fighters. But at least General Rose can depart happy - it has not happened on his watch.