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Conflicts plague plans for Bosnian peace force


WASHINGTON -- The Bosnian Serb nationalist parliament's rejection of the peace plan to end the war in Bosnia occurred as sharp conflicts emerged over a U.S. and allied force that would have been deployed to keep the peace.

In the last several days, as it appeared that Bosnian Serbs would give in to pressure and approve the peace plan, the U.S. direction had shifted from armed action to compel a peace agreement toward the deployment of a peacekeeping force.

Planners for United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali are at odds with the U.S. military and Britain over how much force peacekeepers should employ. The Clinton administration is itself debating internally whether to send a small contingent to prepare the way for the bulk of the allied armies.

And Mr. Boutros-Ghali has raised hackles here by saying that his designee should have overall control of the operation.

The disputes added to growing pressure on President Clinton, who will have an important, if not decisive, say in resolving them -- the United States is due to contribute about 25,000 of the troops and pay one-third of the cost.

The president began the difficult job yesterday of preparing public opinion for military involvement in Bosnia, without naming the country. Welcoming U.S. troops back from Somalia, Mr. Clinton told them: "Your successful return reminds us that other missions lie ahead for our nation.

"Increasingly in this new era we will work with an array of multinational forces, often in new arrangements," he said.

Aides said the president plans a televised address soon aimed at shifting public opinion in favor of intervention.

Recent polls show a majority of Americans opposed to U.S. military intervention in the Balkans.

Preparations for a peacekeeping force advanced yesterday as Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, in Moscow, won a pledge from Russia to contribute its own contingent, which would operate in coordination with NATO.

In a joint statement, the two countries said they would discuss new and tougher measures if Serbs rejected the peace plan.

But U.S. officials familiar with the planning view the mission with foreboding. "Heads we lose, tails we lose big-time," one administration official said. Speaking yesterday before the rejection of the proposed peace plan for Bosnia, the official said: "If they don't sign, there will be military action. If they do sign, we will have to invest a large military force in a very risky situation."

The bulk of U.S. ground troops in a peacekeeping mode are expected to be positioned around Sarajevo, where about 300 of the 600 Serbian artillery pieces are located, U.S. military officials said yesterday.

The possibility also exists that infantry units based in the United States would be dispatched to reinforce the U.S. division in Bosnia. U.N. sources predict the peacekeepers will also have attack helicopters and precision weapons to use against Serbian artillery. Key to the debates over the peacekeeping mission is the question of how much force the peacekeepers would use.

U.N. officials contemplate an aggressive peacemaking operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in which U.S. and other NATO troops would compel Serbs to relinquish territory under the peace plan, they refuse to yield voluntarily.

A source familiar with planning at the United Nations says that if there is local resistance, "then indeed force can be used to make [Serbian fighters] who are not living up to the Vance-Owen plan move where they are supposed to move."

This view was reinforced yesterday by the European mediator, Lord Owen. Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, he said yesterday: "If they resist, they have got to realize that this is a force that is capable of and will have the authority to actually enforce the implementation."

The effort to force Serbian withdrawal would test how seriously the United States and other countries are about implementing the peace plan. But it also blurs the distinction between peacekeeping and actual combat and calls into question Mr. Clinton's pledge not to send U.S. ground troops into hostilities. Serbs control 70 percent of Bosnia and are required to surrender all but 43 percent under the peace plan developed by Lord

Owen and Cyrus R. Vance.

U.S. military officials firmly oppose anything but a narrow peacekeeping role and don't want troops sent into Bosnia at all until implementation of the Vance-Owen plan is well under way.

Pentagon officials say U.S. troops would be given rules of engagement allowing for "rigorous self-defense," but relying on negotiation and pressure to get Serbs to leave eastern Bosnia and other occupied territory.

"You don't have to question whether to defend yourself or how you defend yourself," one official explained. "You do what you have to do to keep safe."

A second debate has opened over a plan under consideration by Mr. Clinton to dispatch a few thousand troops in an early show of force during the two weeks or more before the larger force arrives. The force would be sent within days of Serbian approval of the peace plan.

"How long are you going to leave them out there? If it turns ugly, they're very exposed," an administration official said. Withdrawal casualties among U.S. troops would have the reverse psychological effect on the Serbs of the one intended, the official said.

A military official close to the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted that before U.S. peacekeeping troops step onto Bosnian soil, "we're going to have to have some assurances that they [the Bosnian Serbs] are living up to the peace agreement."

Defense Secretary Les Aspin, in remarks made Tuesday night to European allies and released yesterday, demanded "concrete manifestations that [the Serbs] are really prepared to stop their killing and destruction" before moving in peacekeepers.

Another unresolved issue is who would command the U.N force. U.N. officials are preparing to give overall political control to a non-American special representative of Secretary-General Boutros Ghali, to whom an American "theater commander" would report.

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