Prelude to Retreat in Bosnia


Paris. -- As the Franco-British-Dutch rapid reaction force is assembled in Croatia, the time nears when it will be revealed as real or sham.

Sham has seemed the more likely case, as government officials in London and Paris have decided that the force will act under established United Nations authority, while continuing to speak of the "withdrawal option."

However, the Europeans' position is open to interpretation as well as to change. The mandates which the Security Council has given U.N. forces in the former Yugoslavia have never been fully carried out. They order U.N. troops to defend and deliver humanitarian aid, and defend designated "protected zones," including Sarajevo. The United Nations Protection Force is mandated to use force to carry out these missions.

It has not done so until now because it has not possessed the necessary troops or heavy weapons and backup. The principal governments supplying U.N. troops did not wish them to fight. Now the U.N. force is being given the troop reinforcements and the weapons and helicopters that will enable it to execute its mandates. Will it do so?

Gen. Philippe Morillon, the French officer who commanded U.N. forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina until a little over a year ago, said on Monday that the reinforcements now being assembled in Yugoslavia give U.N. commanders there the military means to do what the Security Council long ago told them to do.

Speaking on the record, and in uniform, to an American audience in Paris, he said that with armored helicopters and the possibility of airborne reinforcement, as well as with the reaction force's tanks and heavy artillery, U.N. troops will possess the military advantage in confrontations, and will no longer be forced to submit to blockades, interference and humiliation.

The day before General Morillon spoke, still another French U.N. soldier was shot in his observation post by a Serbian sniper, and was gravely wounded. A U.N. armored troop carrier was targeted and destroyed by a Serbian tank. Seven more civilians were killed by Serbian shelling of a water point in the supposedly protected suburb of Dobrinja. No retaliation has followed, as there was none for the shooting down on June 2 of an American pilot making a U.N.-mandated observation flight over Bosnia.

The United Nations has fulfilled every Serbian condition for freeing U.N. hostages, and would appear to have renounced any retaliation. It has not obtained return of its light tanks and other equipment and arms seized by the Serbs; those are being employed by the Serbs against Sarajevo. U.N. weapons-collection points and observation posts have been abandoned. The U.N. says that it "hopes" to re-establish negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs so as to obtain "reasonable liberty" for humanitarian convoys. An anonymous UNPROFOR officer says, "It's not failure but a betrayal. Next we'll be serving their tea."

At the moment, U.N. troops are not even doing that. They are passively in Bosnia to be shot at. General Morillon said there has been no mission execution for three months. The airport at Sarajevo is closed. There are no U.N. aid convoys going through. The G-7 leaders in Halifax even appealed to the Bosnian government to call off its effort to break the siege of Sarajevo.

The U.N. leadership in Yugoslavia says that it still will deal "impartially" with the parties to the war, despite the findings of the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and the newly-revealed report of the commission of experts assembled in 1992 to examine the human rights situation, which identifies the Serbs as having committed, as policy, the principal atrocities of ethnic cleansing. The U.N. commission denies that "any concrete basis exists to support the argument that a moral equivalence exists among the belligerents."

Can the U.N.'s present conduct be reconciled with this, or with General Morillon's account of what the rapid reaction force is to do? Certainly the general's words echo what French President Jacques Chirac has said about ending the humiliations inflicted on French and other U.N. soldiers.

There are said to have been three scenarios circulating among members of the new French government which came to power last month. The first is General Morillon's: enforce existing U.N. mandates and tolerate no interference. The second is reinforcement to defend U.N. soldiers, but without enforcement of the mandates, while sending the new European mediator, Sweden's Carl Bildt, to resume the farcical quest for a diplomatic solution. The third is to pull out before winter, citing the present reinforcement as the Europeans' final and futile attempt to solve the conflict.

Carl Bildt is too intelligent a man to think that he can obtain a diplomatic solution in current circumstances. So are policy-makers in Paris and London. The evidence suggests that the scenario they will follow is not General Morillon's but the one by which Europe quits, leaving Serbs, Bosnians and Croats to fight it out.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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