UN: More harm than good?: Four Flashpoints where the United Nations has stepped in

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The Independent Online

THE UN first became involved in former Yugoslavia in September 1991, three months after war broke out between Serbs and Croats. The Security Council passed Resolution 713, imposing an arms embargo on the six former Yugoslav republics. As the war intensified the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and his special representative, Cyrus Vance, developed the idea of sending a peace-keeping force to Croatia. The force was established in February 1992. It was deployed in three UN Protected Areas in Croatia, and Sarajevo was selected for its headquarters, apparently in the hope of preventing the war from spreading into -Herzegovina. However, not only did descend into conflict, but Croatia argues that the UN peace-keeping presence has helped to consolidate Serbian control of areas of Croatia that the Serbs conquered in 1991.

At full strength, the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) comprises about 20,000 people, including infantry battalions, logistics and other support teams, military observers and civilian policemen; 30 countries have provided military personnel, with the largest contingents from France and Britain. Humanitarian aid work in has been carried out by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and by Unprofor troops. These troops can use weapons in self-defence, but there is a view that this is too constraining.


LESS than a year after the UN helped to bring about the 1988 ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war, Western countries began to express alarm over Iraq's military expansion. Tension between Baghdad and the West exploded on 2 August 1989 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The UN immediately condemned the aggression and called on Baghdad to withdraw. The West, led by Washington, marshalled an international coalition through the UN Security Council. Thus Operation Destert Storm, despite being endorsed by the UN, was viewed in some countries as a US-orchestrated campaign to secure Western interests.

After Iraq's defeat in April 1991, the UN established the 300-strong UN Iraq- Kuwait Observer Mission to monitor a demilitarised zone along the frontier. It also established 'safe havens' for Iraq's beleaguered Kurdish population. Last August the US, British, French and Russian governments established an air exclusion zone in southern Iraq in response to attacks by Iraqi forces on Iraqi Shia communities. Although it was not set up by a UN resolution, the Secretary-General said the zone enjoyed the support of the Security Council. Iraq's post-war relations with the international community have been dominated by conflicts over Baghdad's refusal to disclose the full extent of its chemical, nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes.


THE UN's recent involvement in Cambodia began on 23 October 1991, when four warring factions signed a peace treaty in Paris that mandated major UN military and administrative involvement in the run up to elections in 1993. The UN was to assume control of the principal state ministries. On 10 November 1991, the first UN peace-keeping troops arrived.

In March 1992 the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac) was given the mission to disarm the warring factions, demobilise 70 per cent of their troops, hold elections and bring peace and democracy to Cambodia.

The mission was plagued with difficulties caused primarily by the armed intransigence of the Khmer Rouge and incidents of violence against opposition political parties.

In November 1992, after several attempts to secure Khmer Rouge compliance with the peace plan, the Security Council finally adopted a resolution condemning Khmer Rouge obduracy and authorised elections in areas where Untac had control. They went ahead under UN supervision in May 1993, with Funcinpec, the royalist party, defeating the Cambodian People's Party.


SOMALIA is the only country in Africa that has one ethnic group, one culture, one language and one religion. But its clan system has kept Somalis fighting each other for centuries. Siad Barre ruled the country from 1969 until 1991 by a skilful manipulation of the clans, but in 1990 an alliance of forces took over most of Somalia and in 1991 he was driven from the capital. Clan rivalry destroyed the alliance, the north declared independence and a battle raged for the capital between General Aideed's Habr Gadir clan and the Abgal clan. Meanwhile, General Aideed's fighters were battling with Siad Barre's clansmen in the food-growing areas around Baidoia and Bardera. The result was famine.

The UN left Somalia early in 1991 and did not return for over a year, until starvation became widespread. The UN Special Representative, James Jonah, tried but failed to broker a ceasefire early in 1992. Mohammed Sahnoun, the Special Representative who succeeded him, brought about a greater UN involvement and a 100-day plan was launched to save the 1.5 million Somalis facing starvation at the end of 1992.

The UN organised peace conferences in Addis Ababa, and although 15 Somali factions all agreed to a ceasefire and disarmament, the initiative was not followed through. A small UN force of Pakistani troops arrived in August 1992 but was ineffective and on 11 December US Marines came ashore.

The US and other forces provided security for food distribution by the UN agencies and other aid agencies. In May the Americans handed over command to the UN, but the UN Special Representative and the deputy force commander are both American.