Exit of Another UN General Highlights Disarray of Mission in Former Yugoslavia
ZAGREB, CROATIA — THE United Nations mission in former Yugoslavia has sunk deeper into crisis as concerns mount that fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina will escalate following the failure of this week's Geneva peace talks.
The chaos in the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) is highlighted by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's demand this week to remove the mission's military commander, French Gen. Jean Cot.
General Cot's insistence that he be allowed to use air power to protect the lives of UN troops delivering humanitarian aid in Bosnia was the culmination of long-standing differences between the two, UN sources say.
The sources say Mr. Boutros-Ghali considered Cot insubordinate because of his public outspokeness in dealings with his civilian superiors.
But, more critically, Cot's removal is aimed at restoring overall authority of the UN mission to the civilian leadership of newly appointed UNPROFOR chief Yasushi Akashi, the sources say.
Cot was forced to assume power beyond his responsibilities, they say, because international peace mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg, who was given charge of UNPROFOR last summer in an organizational overhaul, failed to devote enough time to running the mission.
``General Cot would probably make Mr. Akashi's life difficult because he seized control in the political vacuum because Stoltenberg was not there,'' says a UN official. ``We really haven't had a clear political leadership. Mr. Akashi has been given clear instructions to get the political house in order.''
Cot's recall came just days after the resignation of UNPROFOR's commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium Gen. Francis Briquemont.
Both generals complained bitterly that they could not perform the tasks of delivering humanitarian aid and securing six Muslim-dominated ``safe havens'' because they were denied resources, troops, and freedom of action by their political masters.
UN sources say the generals' grievances underscored yet again how Western political leaderships have failed to give their men on the ground the means to implement UN resolutions, leaving them without clear policies, directions, and chains-of-command.
``This is a very good example of no unified policy whatsoever,'' a senior UN official says.
Use of air power
Another example, UN sources say, is the question of air power, which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization threatened at its summit in Brussels last week to use against the Bosnian Serbs.
NATO chiefs instructed UNPROFOR to draft plans on using air power to open aid flights to the airport in the Muslim-led Bosnian government stronghold of Tuzla and to support the blocked replacement of UN troops in the Bosnian Serb-besieged town of Srebrenica.
There is fierce internal UNPROFOR opposition to both ideas. Akashi submitted a written report to Boutros-Ghali asserting that ``the use of air power could make an important contribution'' should force be needed to affect the Srebrenica troop rotation.
Akashi also says that air power ``could help to achieve the opening'' of Tuzla airport ``if a military operation was necessary for this purpose.''
But, his report adds that air power alone would not be enough, and that ground forces in addition to the 8,000 UN troops now in Bosnia would be needed.
Some UN sources claim Akashi in reality does not support his own recommendations. He merely went ``through the motions'' to relieve pressure from NATO and some of its members, one source says.
Warnings by France, Britain, Spain, and Canada that they may pull their troops out of Bosnia unless there is a settlement to the conflict by spring are causing more uncertainty within UNPROFOR. ``Everyone is giving different signals. There is no consensus,'' a UN official says.
Senior UNPROFOR political and military officials say privately that they doubt there will be troop withdrawals, especially by Britain and France, which contribute the core contingents of the 27,000-member operation in Bosnia and Croatia. The entire mission would collapse if Paris and London make good their threats, those officials assert.
But, more important, troop withdrawals would send a dangerous signal that Western powers were disengaging from the Balkans and no longer care about restraining ethnic and territorial disputes held in check elsewhere in the region.
All of this comes as UNPROFOR struggles with its primary mission in Bosnia of delivering aid to some 2 million people.
Aid not getting through
Little or no relief aid is getting through to many areas, particularly central Bosnia, because of fighting and obstruction of aid convoys by the warring factions, UN officials say. The UN yesterday suspended an international airlift into Sarajevo after a second relief plane in two days was hit by bullets.
There are grave concerns that bloodshed will escalate following the failure Thursday of the latest round of Geneva peace talks, increasing the suffering of civilians and making UNPROFOR's task even harder than it is already.
The Muslim-led Bosnian government appears in no hurry to agree to the proposed partition of Bosnia into ethnic ``mini-states,'' encouraged by its Army's recent advances.
UN officials worry that Serbia and Croatia and their proxies in Bosnia may now forge an anti-Muslim alliance in a bid to advance their ambitions to divide the former Yugoslav republic between them.
That forecast was reinforced by the accord signed yesterday in Geneva in which Belgrade and Zagreb agreed to begin the gradual process of reestablishing diplomatic ties despite the disputes that remain unsettled from their 1991 war.