U.N. looks the other way when it comes to enforcing ultimatum on Serb guns

February 22, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

OSJEK, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Eighteen heavy artillery pieces scattered across a square mile of rugged, snowy ridge top have been deemed by the U.N. Protection Force to be firmly under the control of 2nd Lt. Spike Martin and his British platoon.

Yet some of the mortars and howitzers at this mountain village northwest of Sarajevo still have their barrels trained on the Bosnian capital.

Not one has been inspected or dismantled by the United Nations forces assigned here.

All are clearly within easy reach of the gun-slinging Bosnian Serb rebels, who outnumber Lieutenant Martin's 20-odd men at least 3-1.

All heavy guns within a 12-mile exclusion zone around the Bosnian capital were supposed to have been withdrawn or surrendered to U.N. forces by 1 a.m. yesterday local time.

But only one of the 18 artillery pieces at this official U.N. "collection center" is within sight of the British troops.

The sole 105 mm howitzer has been pulled out of its sandbagged position and hitched to a Bosnian Serb army truck parked about 100 yards downhill from the British roadside encampment.

The local Bosnian Serb commander retains the truck keys.

As conditions at Osjek and at least 31 other weapons depots make clear, U.N. officials have papered over Bosnian Serb defiance of a NATO ultimatum for demilitarizing the hills ringing Sarajevo by declaring the status quo to be close enough to conformance.

The vast and rugged Osjek slope is one of eight places within the exclusion zone officially designated by U.N. officers as weapons containment sites.

Eighteen other Bosnian Serb areas around Sarajevo are known to have heavy weapons covered by the NATO ultimatum but are described as under control by the U.N. commander for Bosnian-based forces, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose.

French public-affairs officers who arranged a brief, Bosnian Serb-controlled visit to the Osjek gun emplacements yesterday appeared chagrined at the sight of the hillside batteries that are virtually unchanged despite the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's much-heralded ultimatum.

Col. Vladimir Radojic, the local Bosnian Serb commander, held up the U.N.-arranged media visit until nightfall, then forbade journalists to photograph the weaponry, limiting the 10-minute tour to talks with the newly arrived deployment of Lieutenant Martin's platoon of Coldstream Guards. The British troops had not been asked to inspect, relocate or render inoperable any of the weapons on their assigned terrain, said Lieutenant Martin, who could not say how many of the guns were still ready for firing because Colonel Radojic had yet to tell him.

Asked if he could guarantee that the weapons could never be retaken by the Bosnian Serb rebels whose homes and front-line positions surround the new U.N. encampment, Lieutenant Martin replied:

"I don't think that would happen at the moment, because our relations with them are good. They want peace as much as anyone else wants peace."

Sir Michael, the U.N. commander for Bosnian-based forces, has boasted that his formula for defining compliance with the NATO ultimatum has halted the daily bombardment of Sarajevo.

But the 380,000 people trapped in the Bosnian capital fear the end of shelling may have come at the price of an indefinite armed standoff.

They foresee long-term hindrances to their free movement as they remain surrounded by armed Bosnian Serb forces.

Many also fear that the U.N. mission will tire of the costly, labor-intensive weapons-monitoring operation that seems largely to be a charade and will eventually abandon the so-called collection sites like Osjek and allow rebel forces to resume their siege.

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