UNITED NATIONS officials say they desperately need more peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina to monitor cease-fires, protect Muslim ``safe areas'' and aid convoys, and help preserve the progress of recent Croat-Muslim diplomatic strides.
The challenge, they say, is not just getting enough troops, but also getting the right troops - donors without strong ties to one side or the other. So far, for instance, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has declined troop offers from both Islamic Iran and Turkey, strong supporters of Bosnia's Muslim-led government.
A report released March 14 to the Security Council from the secretary-general now puts the immediate need at about 12,000 more peacekeepers or almost twice the size of the current force in Bosnia. The new number assumes that the Serb-besieged Muslim town of Maglaj, as well as Vitez and Mostar, which are covered in the current Croat-Muslim cease-fire, will be added to six existing safe areas as the Council has suggested.
The Council authorized an extra 7,600 troops for Bosnia last July to protect Muslim safe areas. Yet to date, only a few thousand troops have been offered to and accepted by the UN.
Source of new troops
Yasushi Akashi, the secretary-general's special representative in the former Yugoslavia, says the ongoing UN effort is a ``test case'' of whether or not nations will back their own pleas with solid resources. UN members still owe $1.2 billion in assessments for current peacekeeping operations.
New offers for Bosnia so far include 800 troops from France, which with 6,000 troops in the former Yugoslavia is the largest contributor to UN forces there. Britain, which has spearheaded the recent recruitment effort by holding two major meetings for 20 potential donors, will add 900 troops to its Bosnian contingent. Canada will extend its commitment of 2,000 troops for another six months.
Yet getting any more help from the West is proving very difficult. The United States, sharply criticized in Europe for its refusal to provide ground troops in Bosnia until a peace accord is signed, will roughly double its 322-man contingent in neighboring Macedonia. That move will free up a Scandanavian contingent there for transfer to Bosnia or Croatia.
The Bosnian peacekeeper shortage and growing pressure on UN troops to use force to accomplish UN goals underscore the UN's new challenge. In the tightly fought internal wars of the '90s, the UN's unwritten policy of avoiding troops from nations that are neighbors or that have strong ethnic, historic, or religious ties to any side in a conflict affects more and more potential donors.
Without some vested interest, nations are unlikely to offer troops. But any perceived bias by the warring parties damages the UN reputation for neutrality. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic wrote Mr. Akashi just last month to protest the behavior of Russian UN troops who recently arrived to a warm Serb welcome.
Despite his hesitation to accept troop offers for Bosnia from Muslim nations such as Iran - the only nation caught gun-running to Bosnia so far - Mr. Boutros-Ghali has accepted offers from comparatively moderate Muslim states such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Some 3,000 Pakistanis await equipment from Austria, Germany, and the US and are expected to be ready for duty in Bosnia by summer.
A UN official says the secretary-general is uncomfortable with the recent offer of 1,000 troops from Turkey, but faces Council pressure from member nations to accept Turkey's offer because of its membership in NATO and its professional Army. Greece, with close ties to the Serbs, says it may offer troops if Turkish forces are accepted. Bosnian Serbs historically have viewed the Turks as bitter enemies and insist their involvement would only escalate the war.
`Beggars can't be choosers'
The UN faces a tough call. ``We may be compelled to move away from our normal peacekeeping ground rules,'' concedes Joe Sills, Boutros-Ghali's spokesman. ``Beggars can't be choosers, and we aren't ruling anything out,'' agrees Alvaro de Soto, the secretary-general's senior political adviser.
Gen. Indar Rikhye, senior adviser for UN affairs at the US Institute of Peace in Washington and a former commander of five UN peacekeeping operations, says the UN should continue to be selective about troops because contributors with a political agenda often work hard to influence UN policy at every level.
When Egypt sent troops to the UN force in the Congo in the early '60s, for instance, Cairo continued strong support for Congo's prime minister even after he was constitutionally removed from office. That action ran counter to UN military and diplomatic policy, posing a major problem for the UN, he says. The UN should avoid accepting Iranian troops in Bosnia, General Rikhye adds. Iran has a strong political agenda, he says, which is likely to filter down to its forces.
``The UN has to be very careful,'' agrees Janusz Bugajski, an expert on Eastern Europe with Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``You have to strike a balance.''
Still, Mr. Bugajski says, the consequences for the UN of not getting enough troops could be very serious. Bosnia now has large cease-fire and neutral areas, he says, which warring parties will be tempted to violate if UN troops remain scarce.
Many diplomats and UN officials agree that the UN is unlikely to get all the troops it seeks for Bosnia. They say the UN may have to make do with about one-third of the extra forces UN commanders want.