Ethnic conflict in Bosnia jeopardizes U.N. forces Peacekeeping role in Croatia at risk

April 10, 1992|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Another Yugoslav republic plunged into chaos and violence this week as the United Nations began deploying its peacekeeping forces in disputed areas of war-torn Croatia.

The fierce ethnic violence in the central republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina threatens to jeopardize the U.N. mission to keep the peace in the fragments of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Indian Gen. Satish Nambiar, who commands the U.N. troops, personally appeared on television to appeal for calm. But heavy artillery and machine-gun battles raged in many parts of the Bosnia, including its capital, Sarajevo. The clashes are between Muslims and Croats -- who want independence -- and Serbs who don't.

Although 14,000 U.N. troops are being deployed in neighboring Croatia, their headquarters is in Sarajevo. The city is perhaps most famous as the place where the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off World War I in 1914. He was killed by a Serbian nationalist and the fierce passions of that day abide here.

U.N. officials felt a U.N. presence could inhibit nationalistic violence in Bosnia, where none of the three nationalities is in the majority. But U.N. forces could instead find themselves caught up in a new war.

The commander of some 1,200 French U.N. forces already has said he will move his forces to the Bosnia-Croatia border to prevent the violence from spreading. The U.N. peacekeepers, however, have no mandate in Bosnia.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has recommended that the Security Council consider extending the U.N. forces' mandate to Bosnia, but strong objections exist on the grounds that costs would be excessive and that U.N. troops are are supposed to be peacekeepers, not peacemakers.

Some of the most horrific violence has occurred in Sarajevo, where law and order has broken down completely. Armed Muslims attacked and virtually destroyed the gleaming Holiday Inn Hotel, which had been the headquarters of Serb leaders.

Serb gunmen fired on a peace demonstration, and unknown snipers took shots at anyone who appeared in the windows of downtown apartment blocks. Dozens of people are reported killed or injured, though there are no reliable casualty figures.

"There is no escape. Buses aren't running, nor are trams or trains. Armed people are taking their cars and looting shops -- those are the only cars on the roads. It's dangerous and I'm terrified," said one Serb woman hiding in her basement.

A Muslim university professor, also hiding in her basement to avoid artillery and mortar shells lobbed by Serbs into the city, blamed the federal army for giving heavy guns to Serb militants.

Much of the violence was precipitated by the midweek decision of the European Community and the United States to recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent country. But it also followed the collapse of an EC-sponsored accord reached last month in Lisbon, Portugal, between Bosnia's Croats, Serbs and Muslims.

The EC plan had been division of the republic into Swiss-style cantons, with none of the three ethnic groups having a majority in any locale. Serbs now account for 32 percent of Bosnia's 4.5 million population, Muslims 45 percent and Croats 17 percent.

As the accord broke down, the Serbs convened a breakaway national assembly and proclaimed their own independent "Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina," placing large areas of the republic under the control of Serb paramilitary formations.

Much of the current fighting is aimed at enlarging the territories of the three ethnic groups. The Muslims are in control of the capital. The Croatians, supported by thousands of paramilitary troops from Croatia, are in control of western Herzegovina. The Serbs control large areas of western and eastern Bosnia.

"The army is a big question mark," said a senior Western diplomat in Belgrade. "There is the danger that it will allow the Serbs to get away with whatever they can get away with."

So far, the Yugoslav army commanders, dominated by Serbs, have kept 70,000 troops stationed in Bosnia away from the sectarian fighting. But both Muslim and Croatian paramilitary units have assaulted a number of federal installations, believing that the army would eventually side with the Bosnian Serbs.

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