UN Peacekeeper Under Fire
Former Canadian commander in Bosnia accepted speech payments from Serb group
BOSTON — A FORMER top Canadian peacekeeper is under fire - not from hostile armed forces, but the press.
Last year Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie and the United Nations forces under his command endured six months of sniper fire and artillery barrages to keep the Sarajevo airport open for relief flights. And, he negotiated several cease-fires in the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Few in the Canadian military enjoy the respect now-retired General MacKenzie does. A Toronto newspaper columnist called him "the closest thing Canada has had to a military hero" in decades.
Early this week, however, Canadians found their peacekeeping hero fighting to retain his credibility. New York Newsday and the Toronto Star reported Tuesday that a MacKenzie speaking tour last month was financed by the Serbian-American group SerbNet. The group's goal, Newsday said, is to dispel the view that Serb forces are responsible for most atrocities and "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia.
Advocacy-group funding does not violate any laws. But some say that because MacKenzie did not disclose the Serb payments during his appearances or prior to testifying before Congress last month, it may undercut his credibility.
"It's more than just an appearance of impropriety," says George Kenney, a former US State Department desk officer for Yugoslavia, who resigned because of lack of US action to halt Serbian atrocities. "What he has done doesn't entirely call into question his credibility, but it has done it some serious damage."
MacKenzie told Newsday he had done nothing improper. But he also said he "wouldn't be surprised" if speeches the Serbs paid for had fetched his customary fee of $10,000 per appearance. He denied knowing how much the group had paid him, saying his agent handled the matter.
IN a telephone interview with the Monitor Wednesday, MacKenzie said he has not yet received a full accounting of how much SerbNet paid him. But his agent told him the group paid for two speeches, not the entire tour of a dozen or more appearances. He said he did not discover until just before he was to deliver the second of two SerbNet-sponsored talks that Serbs were paying.
"I...didn't feel it presented an ethical dilemma," MacKenzie said. "I would consider it [a conflict of interest] if I changed my pitch, if I changed the script. But the script has been exactly the same for approximately 250 presentations."
That script, however, outrages many who contend that it misrepresents the extent of Serbian atrocities.
Mackenzie told the House Armed Services Committee last month that "dealing with Bosnia is a little bit like dealing with three serial killers - one has killed 15, one has killed 10, one has killed 5. Do we help the one that's only killed five?"
Such views, Mackenzie said, simply reflect the on-the-ground reality in Bosnia. But others say his comments conflict with US, UN, and human rights group reports that single out Serbian forces as bearing the main responsibility for atrocities.
"I don't know why MacKenzie buys into these pro-Serbian positions," says Mr. Kenney, who adds that MacKenzie's stand against armed intervention in Bosnia before Congress softened US lawmakers' resolve to intervene.
"The allegation that my views are in opposition to the UN report on atrocities, including rape and ethnic cleansing, is untrue," MacKenzie responds. "They are not, and they never have been, and I've never made any such statement."