Leading Article: A churlish objection

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE MAIN victims of the war in Bosnia- Herzegovina have been all those killed, wounded or driven from their homes by the conflict. But there have been less visible casualties. The member states of the EC have been lamentably divided about how best to deal with the most serious bloodshed and refugee problem in Europe since the Second World War. Europe especially has been shown to suffer from a plethora of forums, all of which have their backers for a bigger role in this crisis. And now, in the most venerable of them all, the United Nations, the diplomatic shrapnel has begun to fly.

In a letter to the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has in effect accused it of acting behind his back in endorsing last week's agreement in London for combatants to hand over heavy weapons to UN troops in the war zone. He also implied that Lord Carrington, who presided over the peace talks, had ignored his doubts about the feasibility of the scheme, and failed to consult UN experts.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's irritation with the Security Council is not wholly surprising. Some of its members, notably the United States, are happy to stretch the capacity of UN staff to breaking point by adding to the organisation's responsibilities around the world: those in Cambodia and Iraq are having a particularly testing time. Some member states, however, are not prepared to pay their contributions to the cost of these operations: upwards of dollars 1.5bn of arrears are outstanding, the lion's share from the US.

No wonder Mr Boutros-Ghali's nerves are as fully stretched as the UN's resources. Yet he has tended to make life more difficult for himself by his reluctance to talk to the ambassadors of member states or consult adequately with his own officials; and by his unwillingness to attend Security Council meetings, which are often tedious.

Mr Boutros-Ghali is unjustified in suggesting that the plan for heavy weapons to be handed over to UN representatives was dreamt up by Lord Carrington and foisted on him without fair warning. Precisely such a handover was envisaged in the Security Council's Resolution No 752 in May, and the Secretary-General was asked to draw up a plan for its possible implementation. He did not do so until being asked again last Friday.

Equally, he has no cause to feel churlish towards Lord Carrington's peace-making efforts, which were mandated by the EC. From the start, he was the strongest advocate of a division of labour, with the EC doing the peace-making, the UN the peace-keeping. It may be irritating that the Carrington conference is creating more work for the UN's hard-pressed troops in Sarajevo. But it is neither unexpected nor unreasonable.

The chances of last week's ceasefire being implemented do not look good, remarkable though it was that Lord Carrington persuaded the leaders of the three main communities to sign an agreement for the first time. But it remains the best hope. The unknown factor continues to be the extent to which Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader in Belgrade, is masterminding the Serbian onslaught. He wants the UN sanctions against Serbia lifted. The UN and EC want the fighting ended. But they are all reluctant to face up to the truth: that the only argument the Serbian irregulars understand is force.