Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar is quietly recruiting a 50-man observer corps to monitor the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Even before the Afghan truce accords were signed in Geneva last Thursday, nine traditional UN peacekeeping contributors had been asked if they would supply military personnel for the operation.
The secrecy of the approach was dictated by the fear of rebuff.
While the governments solicited have promised to give ``favorable consideration'' to the Secretary-General's request, none has made a commitment. All have asked for a fine-tuning of the broad references to the operation, which are appended to the Geneva accords.
The accord itself contains a potential contradiction. If the United States continues to arm the Afghan resistance, which it has the right to do if the Soviets keep arming the Kabul regime, that could violate the pact's nonagression feature.
``We have been burned before,'' said a delegate of one of the solicited governments with a long record of supplying UN peacekeepers.
The UN is millions of dollars in arrears in paying for troops supplied for other peace operations.
Other issues each government wants resolved include:
What the Security Council's involvement will be in setting operational guidelines.
The precise duration of service, and the prospect that - as in Cyprus and other UN operations - the peace force may have its tour extended indefinitely.
What provisions will be made for the safety of the observers.
What the specific duties will be.
What countries will supply observers.
Diplomats said the Secretary-General's office is preparing answers to questions in a report to be submitted, probably this week, to the Security Council.
According to information the UN has supplied to prospective troop contributors, a Finnish general would head the operation as deputy to the UN's special Afghanistan representative, Diego Cordovez. The assignment represents a new phase in the Afghan peacemaking efforts for Mr. Cordovez, the architect of the Geneva accords.
Under the Finnish general, who probably would be based in Kabul, would be two colonels - an Austrian and a Swede. One colonel would be in Kabul and the other in either Islamabad or Peshawar, Pakistan.
As spelled out in the memorandum annexed to the Geneva accords: ``The two headquarters units will be organized into two inspection teams to ascertain on the ground any violations of the instruments comprising the settlement.''
The other countries approached and the number of observers proposed for them are: Ireland, Ghana, and Canada, five each; Poland, Fiji, and Denmark, four each. Besides the staff officers, the Finns would provide seven, Sweden nine, and Austria four observers.
In assembling observers, the UN is racing an April 24 deadline.