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Bosnia Chews Up Hopes of Top UN General

Britain's General Rose departs his stormy assignment with the city of Sarajevo calmer but still sealed off

By David RohdeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 23, 1994


LT. GEN. MICHAEL ROSE will end his one-year tour as commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina today, but the colorful British general's presence will hang over Bosnia and future UN peacekeeping operations for years to come.

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Mr. Rose has been the most publicly outspoken and personally divided figure in a historic and at times ugly struggle to decide what role the UN will have in post-cold war peacekeeping.

To the delight of his British and French supporters and the fury of his US critics, Rose eventually settled into the traditional UN approach of staying neutral instead of using force to ''make peace'' in Bosnia.

Critics say a golden opportunity to strengthen the UN, stabilize the world, and rein in rampant nationalism has been lost.

''Everything he was supposed to deliver on -- the heavy weapons exclusion zones, the blue routes, the safe areas he failed miserably at,'' a US official says.

''The classic UN peacekeeping mode backfires terribly where you try and pretend to be impartial, but you're not. I think there's really only one way to deal with it -- taking sides,'' he adds.

But to his supporters, Rose's restraint saved the UN's reputation for neutrality and prevented hundreds of French, British, and other peacekeepers from being killed by stopping the UN from attacking the Bosnian Serb forces.

''Given the mandate he has and the resources he has, I think Michael Rose can be very proud of his time in Sarajevo,'' a Western diplomat says.

A failure of force

Despite the current four-month cease-fire, improvements in Muslim and Croat relations in central Bosnia, and relative calm in Sarajevo, he is derided by Bosnian government officials and Sarajevo residents for failing to use force against the Serbs.

Alternatively described as arrogant, heavy-handed, and colonialist by critics in the press, Rose is known for rarely missing a photo opportunity and sharply controlling what information goes to reporters.

Only a year ago, Rose was the darling of the media and the Bosnian government. Both diplomatic camps -- the British and French in favor of the UN status quo and the Americans and Germans in favor of more aggressive UN military action -- thought they had their man.

With a Rose that appeared to favor using force leading the charge, the UN operation in Bosnia -- its largest and most expensive ever -- quickly became a testing ground for an unprecedented expansion of UN methods, goals, and mandates.

Within a week of arriving last January, Rose's reported threat to dispatch armored vehicles to blow their way through a Bosnian Serb roadblock stopping traffic into Sarajevo prompted the Serbs to dismantle it themselves.

After a shell killed 68 people in a Sarajevo market last February, Rose was praised by then Bosnia-hawk President Clinton for ''making a real difference'' by using the threat of NATO airstrikes to get the Serbs to withdraw their heavy weapons from around the city.

Calling in airstrikes

Later that month, four of six Bosnian Serb jet fighters caught violating a UN-declared no-fly zone over Bosnia were shot down by NATO aircraft.

And in April, Rose called in two NATO airstrikes to halt a Bosnian Serb attack on the UN-declared civilian ''safe area'' in the surrounded enclave of Gorazde in southwestern Bosnia.