UN chief in Sarajevo calls for intervention to end conflict

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The commander of UN forces in Sarajevo said yesterday that only the threat of military intervention in Bosnia could end the conflict. General Hussein Aly Abdul Razek of Egypt said he believed the UN Security Council should give the opposing sides an ultimatum ordering them to pull back their forces and artillery and commence a peace process. The Council should 'give them a specific time, like one month, otherwise the Security Council should consider other means to implement the international community's will'.

Adding that air strikes, which have been much discussed to enforce a 'no- fly zone' would not be enough, the general said: 'It's very clear that I am not talking about a comprehensive intervention. I can't talk specifically about intervention or the next step.' He added: 'I think we have tried everything peaceful now and they realise that it is just papers, statements, words.'

In another development, Bernard Kouchner, the French Health and Humanitarian Affairs Minister, paying a weekend visit to Sarajevo, negotiated the exchange of 32 Serbian prisoners for 32 Bosnian Muslims.

Gen Abdul Razek's view of the situation was typical of one which worries some officers of the UN force in Bosnia. French officers have privately expressed fears that their men will bear the brunt of an intervention.

Their concern is that volunteers who came to fulfil the UN mandate of delivering humanitarian aid were ill equipped to go into combat. Of 1,400 French soldiers in Bihac, on the border with Croatia, 68 per cent are conscripts. In many cases, they volunteered to extend their time to serve in the UN force. The Bihac battalion has 150 armoured vehicles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and mortars to defend itself.

'The Germans got bogged down here during the war and we can't hope to do any better,' a senior French officer at Bihac said on Saturday. 'We have troops of only average value and we don't have the support behind us. I hope that message gets through.'

Other French officers expressed similar sentiments. One captain based in Sarajevo said the 1,500 UN troops in the city, basically French, Egyptians and Ukrainians, were 'already hostages here. If we tried to pull out we would be shelled by both sides. We can't go.'

Gen Abdul Razek's pessimism was not matched, however, by one French officer who attends the regular negotiations between leaders of the Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats who make up Bosnia's ethnic puzzle. He said the atmosphere between the warring parties had improved markedly in the past three months. 'At the beginning, they wouldn't shake hands and didn't look at each other,' he said. 'Since the beginning of December they shake hands formally and talk directly to each other.'

The French mediators had at first tried to be 'Cartesian, we tried to balance concessions from each side. For us that was natural but they don't see it like that,' he said. 'But there is no alternative to negotiation.'

Gen Abdul Razek said no intervention would solve the problems engendered by civil war. 'Intervention would be very complicated . . . peace should come through the will of the people concerned,' he said. But now the opposing forces were 'enjoying killing each other and destroying everything with the world just standing by'.

Dr Kouchner, who left yesterday for Belgrade, said the problem would be teaching people 'to live together after all this'. The war had produced 'a density of hatred, of violence, of rage'.

He criticised the virulence of international criticism of the Serbs. Of a poster campaign by Medecins du Monde, a charity which Dr Kouchner founded, comparing Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader, with Hitler, he said: 'I understand that the Serbs are outraged. I don't believe that Milosevic is Hitler.' Pointing out that he had visited some of the Serbian prison camps he said that, although conditions were appalling, 'they are not extermination camps'.

Dr Kouchner made his trip after Roland Dumas, the Foreign Minister, in a statement quickly disavowed by his government colleagues, said France should liberate the camps alone if necessary. In Belgrade, Dr Kouchner said he would ask to visit three villages where, Bosnians have alleged, women have been forced into brothels.

Over the weekend, UN officers described the military situation in Sarajevo as quiet. On Saturday, the airport was closed for about an hour by a mortar attack in which two soldiers of the French Foreign Legion were injured.

In conversation, French officers emphasised that Muslim forces have been responsible for many attacks on UN forces in Sarajevo. They also claim that the Bosnian leadership keeps water supplies limited to strengthen the siege mentality and make the city the focus of international attention.