ZAGREB, CROATIA — A PLANNING team for the new UN Rapid Reaction Force in Bosnia proposes that Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic be given authority over whether the force should be used.
The proposal further backtracks on the West's recent determination to confront the Bosnian Serbs, especially to prevent taking UN peacekeepers as hostages.
The team, in presenting its operations plan yesterday to UN military commander Gen. Bernard Janvier, envisions the heavily armed, 12,000-troop force as not attempting to protect food convoys heading to surrounded Bosnian Muslim enclaves without General Mladic's permission.
"Our forces are here based on the consent of the parties," a senior UN official said last week. "If we don't have the Serbs' strategic consent, we don't try."
The proposal confirms the concerns of US critics and the Bosnian government that the much-hyped $400 million force may mean more expensive UN inaction in the face of Bosnian Serb defiance.
Following the refusal of Republican leaders of Congress to fund the new force, President Clinton said Thursday that he would initially contribute $15 million to it anyway, using defense funds.
UN officials describe a proposed command structure that confirms past reports that the force will come under the control of UN Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi. Under the structure proposed yesterday, Mr. Akashi will be presented with a wide range of scenarios of what may result if the force is deployed in specific situations.
Possible Bosnian Serb attacks, Reaction Force responses - and most important of all - possible peacekeeper casualties, will be weighed before Akashi allows the force to leave its main bases in Vitez and Tomislavgrad in central Bosnia. The force will only come under the command of Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, the UN commander in Bosnia who reportedly favors aggressively confronting the Serbs, after Akashi has allowed it to leave its bases.
UN officials emphasize that the plan has not been finalized. "We have commented on earlier drafts," Lt. Col. Gary Coward, UN spokesman in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, said yesterday. "We're eager to see the final version."
UN officials warn that how the force is used may determine whether a UN pullout from Bosnia, assisted by as many as 25,000 US troops, will occur.
"I cannot emphasize enough how decisive this force will be for the future viability of this mission," says a UN official, who fears the force is already being rendered impotent. "We may be giving birth to a force that has no [guts]."
In what UN officials see as a sign of timidity to come, the "Rapid Reaction Force" has already lost its rapidity. At some point over the last two weeks, the planning team changed the name of the force and cut "rapid" from the forces' name and now call it the meeker-sounding "Reaction Force."
The joke currently circulating UN hallways is that the force should be called United Nations Protection Force Protection Force or UNPROFOR PROFOR - a sarcastic play on the official name of a UN mission staffers say can't even protect itself, let alone Bosnian civilians.
UN officials say a crucial opportunity to establish a new model of peacekeeping is being missed. The Reaction Force is the first of its kind and is the most heavily armed UN force ever fielded. Attack helicopters, tanks, and artillery pieces with a range of 12 miles will be at the disposal of UN military commanders.
The operation's plan comes as food crises continue in Sarajevo and other surrounded Bosnian enclaves. Over 5,000 UN troops in Sarajevo are on rations because of various obstacles the Bosnian Serbs have erected to food convoys entering the besieged capital.
And yesterday, a mortar shell apparently fired by the Serbs hit the UN headquarters in Sarajevo. Three peacekeepers were wounded, along with a Bosnian guard of the US Embassy.
Due to various Serb obstacles and delays, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was only able to deliver 20 percent of its food supplies last month, the lowest delivery rate in two years.
Bosnian government officials, angered by the food crises and the UN's complete inaction in the face of the worst shelling attacks on Sarajevo in two years, announced on Friday that it will no longer meet with Akashi.
"We do not speak to Akashi any more," Hasan Muratovic, the Bosnian government's minister for UN relations, told a Sarajevo news agency Friday. "We don't have anything more to do with him."
Bosnian government officials and Western diplomats predict the force will simply make a token effort to stand up to the Serbs, and will then be used to withdraw the 15,000 UN peacekeepers from Bosnia.
Whatever happens in the long term, diplomats expect the force, which is scheduled to be in place by mid-July, to be immediately tested by the Bosnian Serbs and Muslim-led Bosnian government.
"The Serbs are going to test the new force and the West's resolve to use it," says a Western diplomat.
"I don't think the political will is there to blast convoys through," he adds.