Loss of Another UN 'Safe Zone' May Bring US Forces Into Bosnia
THE future of the 39-month-old United Nations mission in Bosnia remains in grave peril following the fall of the UN-protected Muslim enclave of Srebrenica to an unrepentant Bosnian Serb army.Skip to next paragraph
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For the West, the stakes have risen ever higher.
The lives of UN peacekeepers are now at risk as summer military offensives intensify across Bosnia. Yet a UN pullout would require a massive NATO military effort - including the dispatch of some 25,000 United States troops to a nation President Clinton has called ''a shooting gallery.''
Western leaders are leaning toward the continuation of the troubled United Nations effort. Withdrawal of peacekeepers could cause a massive humanitarian crisis among Bosnian civilians. But the fall of another safe zone, such as embattled Zepa, might yet trigger a UN retreat.
''There is some determination'' by countries with troops in Bosnia to stay the course, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said. ''There is some sense that the [UN] presence is vital to helping relieve the humanitarian situation ... which is now surely worsening.''
The UN created six safe areas in Serb-held Bosnia-Herzegovina in June 1993 as sanctuaries for the thousands of Muslim refugees forced from their homes by the Bosnian Serb army. The population of Srebrenica, for instance, swelled from 4,000 to 26,000, turning the tiny mining town into a giant refugee camp.
Then, on Tuesday, 1,500 Bosnian Serb troops backed by tanks and artillery flouted a UN warning of NATO air power and slipped past Dutch UN troops positioned to protect the enclave. NATO jets bombed the advancing Serbs and destroyed two tanks, but the defiant Serbs steamrolled into town.
Srebrenica's refugees went on the run for a second time. The entire city and its surrounding villages fled the Serb onslaught and sought shelter in abandoned factories, barns, and fields around the Dutch UN base in Potocari, three miles north of the town.
In the wake of the fall, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali use all necessary means to restore the ''safe areas'' immediately.
But the resolution was not likely to do much. Restoring the enclave by force would necessitate bringing in hundreds, possibly thousands of UN troops and heavy weaponry.
''To reclaim Srebrenica, you'd have to be prepared to fight ... and there is no political will to do that,'' a UN official says. ''The best we could hope for is to negotiate with the Serbs.''
Negotiating with the Serbs to reclaim the enclave also appeared unlikely. As the resolution was drafted, Bosnian Serb leader Gen. Ratko Mladic plowed into the Potocari camp with a procession of dilapidated buses and demanded the refugees board them. ''We will not take no for an answer,'' he reportedly said.
Women and children boarded the buses and were later dumped six miles from the government border. Deprived of food for as long as 24 hours, they were forced to trek six hours through no-man's land in the dark to Kladanj, in government-held territory. All men over the age of 16 and some much younger were brought by General Mladic to be interviewed for possible war crimes in Bratunac, just north of the Srebrenica enclave.