UN Nations Irked Over US Plan For Troops in Croatia

Some say UN forces will not halt Serb troops from crossing border

AS US President Clinton meets Croatian President Franjo Tudjman today to finalize a United States-brokered deal with Croatia to keep some UN peacekeepers in Croatia, some of the countries whose troops may be doing the resulting dirty work are fuming.

Under the proposed deal, negotiated almost exclusively by US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, a smaller number of United Nations troops would be left in Croatia and be given the additional and dangerous task of preventing Serb forces from crossing the international border between Croatia and Bosnia.

UN officials and nations with troops already on the ground in Croatia are bitterly complaining that US diplomats have committed other nations' troops to taking on hazardous new tasks without their consent.

''You've got one state dictating what other states' troops are supposed to enforce,'' says a senior UN official. ''It's outrageous.''

The current dispute reflects the long-running tensions between the US and Europe over the former Yugoslavia. European and other nations with troops on the ground have long complained about the US's habit of trying to dictate policy in Croatia and Bosnia without committing its own ground troops.

European and US officials are also expressing vastly different expectations of what the new UN border monitors will do. Mr. Holbrooke has said UN troops will take control of border points to deter all Serbs from crossing, but European diplomats -- whose troops may be called on to face the well-armed Serbs -- are balking.

''There will be only monitoring. There will be no attempt to stop [Serb forces],'' a European diplomat says. ''This is purely a political exercise.''

In Croatia, the reaction to the plan has been mixed. Nationalist groups have criticized President Tudjman for backing down on his vow to oust all UN peacekeepers from Croatia. Rebel Serbs -- who seized control of nearly one-third of Croatia after it declared independence in 1991 -- have said they will only accept UN civilian police as border monitors.

US officials vow UN troops will take control of 25 to 30 border crossings with or without the Serbs' consent, but UN officials are scoffing at the US promises.

''Are they going to send in the Marines to enforce it?'' says the senior UN official. ''The only ones that are saying that are the Americans.''

In Zagreb, residents expressed mixed feelings over the deal. ''When you talk to people at the coffee shop, they say they are disappointed that Croatia has backed down again,'' says one Zagreb resident who asked not to be named. ''But when you ask people if they're ready to send their son to the front line, they say 'no.' ''

But residents and Croatian political observers warn that Tudjman will face overwhelming domestic pressure, particularly from the tens of thousands of refugees displaced from their homes, to take back Serb-held areas by force if significant progress isn't made in new US-backed negotiations with the rebel Serbs.

''I knew he would let UN forces stay,'' says Mario, a young Zagreb resident who says he will be quickly drafted into the military if fighting resumes.

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