UN Takes Heat on Peacekeeping, Relief Effort in Bosnian Crisis
UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — THE United Nations is under growing pressure to do more to stop the killing and step up relief efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Security Council expects to begin a broad debate on the subject this week.
The UN's many efforts to end the war so far range from a sweeping regional embargo on arms, an economic embargo on Serbia, and the brokering of unsuccessful cease-fires. The UN is also trying to craft a political solution at talks in Geneva and has increased the number of UN peacekeeping troops in Bosnia to protect relief convoys there. In October the Security Council banned all military flights over Bosnia and set up a commission to collect data on war crimes.
Despite all this, the war in Bosnia rages on:
* Just as the Serbs have continued to snatch up more towns, such as Jajce, which fell Oct. 30, so now the Croats have begun to capture towns to add to their enclave inside Bosnia.
* Thousands of refugees continue to flee. Many are shot at, captured, or turned back at borders. In Croatia, which has already taken in 650,000 Bosnians, UN peacekeepers are forced by the government (which sets the terms of UN operations) to refuse refugees without permits.
* UN officials estimate that as many as 400,000 Bosnians may not make it through the winter if more supplies are not in place soon.
Acting on a promise made by all sides in September that this first week in November would be a "week of tranquility," a UNICEF convoy led by executive director James Grant is in Sarajevo without military escort, to deliver more than 15 tons of supplies to the estimated 1 million children under 12 in the six former Yugoslav republics.
The Security Council is feeling the heat these days particularly from Bosnia's Muslim government and a number of Islamic states. (Islamic world's response, Page 6.) High on their priority list is improved delivery of more humanitarian aid, a lifting of the arms embargo for Bosnia, and enforcement of the Council's no-fly zone. Bosnia contends that military helicopters regularly violate the UN ban.
"It's about time the international community showed some backbone and enforced the no-fly zone," says Bosnia's Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey. "I'm hopeful there is some momentum building to implement [existing] UN resolutions." He contends, for instance, that the town of Jajce, for instance, was attacked by Serb helicopters, was supposed to have had its heavy weapons put under UN supervision under an August agreement, and fell to the Serbs last week because Bosnian Muslims ran out of ammunition.
One new topic likely to surface on this week's Council agenda is the question of Croatia and sanction equity.
`CROATIA is now actively involved in carving up Bosnia-Herzegovina," notes Robin Remington, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-Columbia who has spent many years in Yugoslavia as a research scholar. "For the Council not to respond, by at least stating that it is reassessing the situation, would be to seriously damage the UN's credibility as a broker of this conflict."
Sir David Hannay, Britain's ambassador to the UN, agrees that the topic is almost sure to come up. Several Council members, himself included, he says, are "extremly worried" about the Croatian government's support of Bosnian Croats who have in effect opened "a second front." He says, "Some very serious warnings will have to be given [so that it is understood] that when the Council says there must be no interference in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that's what it means."
Hurst Hannum, associate professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, says he thinks the Council should move quickly to strengthen its effort to deal with war crimes. The Council so far has made no provision for enforcement. "If I were the Serbs, I wouldn't be very worried," he says. The danger of inaction, he says, is that any political solution may well include amnesty.
Much of the Council debate this week is likely to focus on the framework of and response to one such political solution. Last week in Geneva, Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, co-chairmen of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, proposed a new Bosnian constitution calling for a decentralized state of as many as 10 highly autonomous regions.
So far only Bosnia's Muslim government likes the plan. The Serb and Croatian sides are critical but have accepted the idea as a basis for further talks this week. Also up for Council discussion will be the effort of the Geneva conference's military working group to get a lasting cease-fire and the demilitarization of Sarajevo and other towns.
"It's important that the Vance mission continue to keep people talking...that's the only way a settlement is going to come," says Carol Skalnik Leff, a visiting professor of political science at the University of Illinois and a specialist in the internationalization of ethnic conflict. "I think it's quite possible that the best the UN can do this winter is to focus on the humanitarian issue and keep everyone at the table."
Still, many people criticize the UN for not taking more decisive action to stop the war. "The UN really was not designed to be a strike force," says Professor Hannum. In his view the UN is being made a scapegoat and blamed for what has happened more than Germany and the European Community are. Yet it was really their policy of early recognition that set off the fighting in Bosnia, he says. "The UN hasn't done much, but it certainly hasn't made the situation worse."