ZAGREB, Croatia -- A growing diplomatic row between the United Nations and Croatia over the role of peacekeeping troops and a sharp increase in fighting in Yugoslavia is threatening U.N. deployment plans.
The dispute centers on a refusal by the United Nations to disarm Serbian militias once federal army troops withdraw from three areas of Croatia.
Croatian officials claim that under the terms of a peace agreement signed late last year, the United Nations pledged to disarm any militia units that remain in the three areas after the federal troops leave.
However, they say the United Nations now has decided that local officials, not U.N. troops, will be responsible for disarming the militias when the areas are placed under full U.N. protection next month.
"Each side is responsible for carrying out its commitments under the peace agreement," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. "We are not going to go after [the militias] like a police force to get them to give up their weapons. It is their own responsibility to comply with the agreement."
Croatian officials say the United Nations is shirking its responsibilities. They believe that the U.N. decision will allow the militias to keep their weapons, because most local officials in the protected areas are Serbs.
"It is [the U.N.'s] job to disarm the militias in the occupied areas," said Mario Nobilo, a top adviser to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. "If they leave the disarming to local authorities, there will be no demilitarization of the occupied areas."
The disagreement coincides with a sharp increase in fighting in Croatia and the neighboring republic of Bosnia, leaving more than 30 people dead and 60 wounded since March 21.
Croatian officials say the U.N.'s slow implementation of the peace plan is responsible for the recent surge of violence.
"The conflict is escalating and the U.N.'s tactic of delaying their deployment is damaging the peace plan," said one Croatian official. "The longer they wait, the more chance there is that the war will resume. We are very frustrated with the way the U.N. is handling this."