UN May Expand Bosnian Effort
UN forces assess ability to protect relief supplies as cease-fire nears collapse
NEW YORK — THE United Nations is reaching out for fresh answers as it steps up its efforts to end the fierce fighting that still rages in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The UN Security Council is expected to meet today to consider expanding the size and mandate of the UN peacekeeping force that now monitors the cease-fire in neighboring Croatia. A few hundred UN troops could be assigned to secure the airport at Sarajevo to protect airlifted supplies intended for thousands of civilians under siege in and around the capital since early April.
Much depends on whether a tentative June 5 agreement among warring parties holds; it would reopen and turn control of the airport over to the UN. The early outlook was not promising. Almost immediately after the airport agreement was reached, an intensive Serb bombardment of Sarejevo began, killing at least 12 people. The rocket and machine-gun battle continued into the weekend, damaging two hospitals and setting several high-rise buildings afire. UN officials termed the attacks among the most serious in
The Security Council is likely to move cautiously, both because of these continued attacks and because the UN is exploring new ground in the Bosnian crisis.
Most previous UN-brokered cease-fires in the country have collapsed in a matter of hours. The latest, agreed to last week just as tough UN Security Council sanctions against the two Serb-led republics of Yugoslavia were about to take hold, has been severely strained. Yet UN diplomats are in no rush to declare the effort dead.
Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar, commander of the UN Protection Force in Croatia, is expected to assess manpower and technical needs for the new UN airport forces in a report to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali early this week. The secretary-general has also asked General Nambiar to explore the possibility of setting up a larger security zone for humanitarian relief efforts that would include Sarajevo.
The Serb-led Yugoslav government insists that Belgrade does not control irregular Serb forces in Bosnia and wants the Council to lift the sanctions. Some members of the Council, which took the action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which deals with acts of aggression, also question how much control Belgrade wields but have given no indication that they might withdraw the sanctions.
"Use of Chapter 7 is a sign that the Council is very serious," notes one Western diplomat. If sanctions are not lifted and have no perceived impact on the fighting, the Council is obliged under Chapter 7 to take more direct steps, such as an air or naval blockade.
By moving increasingly to armed protection for relief supplies in wars in which it has not been able to get a successful cease-fire, the UN has been moving into what some UN experts say is new territory.
"This [Bosnian case] is a unique situation, and I would guess that the Council is feeling its way rather gingerly," comments Innis Claude, a UN expert and professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. "It's not quite the same thing as reacting to Iraq's aggression, where there was something resembling a collective security enforcement action. Yet it's not quite the normal peacekeeping operation either."
Enlarging the usual UN peacekeeping role to cover humanitarian duties in Bosnia would amount to "military intervention through the back door," says David Scheffer, an international lawyer with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It would be an effort at deterrence rather than actual combat."
"I think there's a greater willingness to use UN forces for ... humanitarian intervention, if the scope of activity can be defined narrowly enough, than for really trying to impose a cease-fire," says Hurst Hannum, an associate professor of international law at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) often works with UN relief efforts but temporarily suspended its operations in Bosnia a few weeks ago. Asked if UN armed escorts would help the group's relief work, ICRC spokeswoman Francoise Derron says, "It's not our way of working; we never have convoys accompanied by gunmen." Yet she concedes that civilians increasingly are intentional targets in wars. "We are facing a very basic challenge.... Maybe we've got to get further guarantees" of safety, Ms . Derron says.
Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador-designate to the UN, says the job of the new UN troops around Sarajevo airport must be very carefully spelled out.
"The question is: Are the forces going to hold their ground? Because this is now not just a peacekeeping operation ... but one absolutely necessary for humanitarian relief," Mr. Sacirbey says. "I think the Council also will need to make absolutely sure that the airspace [over Bosnia] is protected against jet fighters and other kinds of aircraft that could be sent from Serbia."