UN flounders over plan to rebuild Bosnia

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The Independent Online

New York

Concern is growing at the United Nations that, while the Nato-led military campaign to return peace to Bosnia may be moving forward, plans for civilian reconstruction are proving harder to get off the ground.

The UN is encountering difficulties executing one of the few tasks left to it in Bosnia by the Dayton peace accord: the creation of a 1,700-strong civilian police contingent to help rebuild the police forces of the Serb and Muslim communities.

More broadly, however, doubts are growing about the way the accord distributes civilian responsibilities to a series of different international agencies at once, including the UN, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), with Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, floating alongside them in an ill-defined co-ordinating role.

"The civilian structure is a patchwork of specialist agencies with no single person really to knock heads together and no apex of a chain of command," said Jim Shear, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Instead, there are several different chains of command."

Thus, the UN has been assigned the police mission as well as the relocation of refugees, to be undertaken by the UNHCR. Responsibility for human- rights protection will be shared by the UN and the OSCE, while the latter has been given the task of setting up elections later this year. The EU is to oversee the physical reconstruction of Bosnia.

Some in New York believe that the UN should have been selected to take the overall lead in the civilian effort in Bosnia but that it has been the victim of a vindictive sidelining campaign by the United States, which has made no secret of its wish to see the UN involved as little as possible.

An official, who asked to remain anonymous, said bitterly of the American attitude: "If you decide that you are going to dismember the best civilian implementation organisation around and try to put another one in its place, you shouldn't be surprised when things go wrong."

The shortcomings on the civilian side were highlighted by this week's kidnapping crisis in Sarajevo, which ended yesterday. The main task of the UN police force (Civpol) will be to return local police operations to full order - through retraining and general hand-holding - to be able to deal with incidents of this kind, that are not meant to be the responsibility of Nato.

Officials in New York admit that they have so far made very little headway in recruiting the 1,700 police officers needed for the mission. "We are still very far from assembling the authorised number," a spokesman said yesterday. "It is not easy to recruit well-trained police officers willing to serve in Bosnia."

Even if the UN police get there, it is not clear where they could live or work from.

Another complaint emanating from the UN building here is that, as it sweeps through the country, the I-For mission of Nato is sucking up all available resources and accommodation. The UN has been forced to surrender almost all of its previous building space and may have to build prefabricated shelter for the police officers.

There has also been some frustration that, while the Nato forces were on the move over Christmas and the New Year, there was no mobilisation of Mr Bildt and his colleagues.

He arrived in Sarajevo on Wednesday, as did his OSCE counterpart, Robert Frowick. "There was a feeling that whole period was somehow squandered," one diplomat said.

The US spokesman at the UN, James Rubin, conceded that the outlook for the civilian operation in Bosnia looked unpromising. "There is an enormous amount of work to do, that's true, and all of the people involved are going to have to get rolling. And there are going to be some growing pains."

He contended, however, that it is normal for the military to establish a degree of security in a country before the civilian mission gets under way.