U.N. peacekeeper leaves Sarajevo safer, but failed to achieve peace

January 22, 1995|By New York Times News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia departs from Sarajevo tomorrow, leaving behind an isolated city that is shivering cold but safer than when he arrived, and a Bosnian government that despises him.

Mercurial, sharp-tongued and relentlessly assertive, the commander, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose of Britain, is not a man to leave people indifferent. His one-year assignment here has been a roller coaster, lurching between triumph and disaster.

His greatest achievement was combining the United Nations and NATO in an operation last February that pushed back the Serbian artillery that had long shelled Sarajevo.

He also consolidated the U.S.-brokered peace between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia. The British government has decided to award him a rare fourth star shortly after he returns to London.

"We managed to hold the line," General Rose said. "There were siren voices calling us to war, wanting us to operate as combatants. But that would have led to scenes in Sarajevo like those in Grozny.

"There is a very clear distinction in my mind between peacekeeping and war-making. We have moved painfully down the road to peace."

The legacy of General Rose will, however, be a difficult one for his successor, Maj. Gen. Rupert Smith, who forged close ties with U.S. officers while commanding British forces in the Persian Gulf war.

The United Nations' aspirations under General Rose have been sharply reduced from advancing an enduring peace to avoiding a worse war, its relations with the Bosnian government have become poisonous, and its partnership with NATO is in tatters.

With unusually blunt language from the Bosnian government, Hasan Muratovic, the minister for relations with the United Nations, said: "General Rose was absolutely a supporter of the Serbs. None of us wants to say goodbye to him."

The government's fury reflects its conviction that the 54-year-old general -- aided by a Russian adviser and an interpreter of Serbian descent -- came to espouse the Serbian view of the war and to see the Muslim-led government as made up of professional victims bent on luring NATO into the war on its side.

The response of General Rose to his critics is that as a peacekeeper, he had no choice but to remain strictly neutral, that his 23,000 U.N. troops were never configured to fight a war, and that his stance consistently reflected that of the nations that contributed those troops.

"I have no idea why the government came to the conclusion that I am pro-Serb," General Rose said. "It is a curious idea that I should favor the people I am bombing when I have ordered air strikes."

He added: "I am not morally indifferent, but as a peacekeeper I have to stick in the middle."

This reference to morality became General Rose's standard form of acknowledging a situation in which the Serbs evicted more than 700,000 Muslims from their homes in the attempt to establish an ethnically pure state on 70 percent of Bosnia.

U.N. officials close to General Rose noted a profound change in him after the Serbian attack on Gorazde in April 1994. A British officer was killed in the assault. General Rose accused the Muslim-led government forces of deliberately folding their defenses in front of him.

"After that," one senior official said, "Rose felt that the government was bound and determined to bring NATO in. He has seen everything since then in that light, and the United Nations' main mission became avoiding falling into that trap."

Certainly, the atmosphere in General Rose's headquarters came to seem increasingly skewed.

He stuck a photograph on his wall of a bombed-out Red Cross vehicle with the caption, "Nice One, NATO."

His interpreter, Maj. Michael Stanley, a Briton of Serbian descent, took to excoriating international peace proposals for the territorial division of Bosnia, saying, "If you were a Serb, would you accept a map as stupid as that?"

General Rose's suspicion of NATO translated into increasingly cool relations with the United States, whose decision not to send troops to Bosnia annoyed him. A senior U.S. official had to leave Sarajevo through the tunnel under the airport because General Rose would not provide him with an escort.

The U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, Victor Jackovic, clashed frequently with General Rose. Mr. Jackovic did not bother to say goodbye to General Rose, who said, "My relations with the United States have been absolutely excellent throughout."

General Rose's decisions seemed increasingly dictated by a determination to avoid armed confrontation with the Serbs. He had vowed to keep the roads into Sarajevo open and an agreement of March 17, 1994, was supposed to guarantee this.

But when the Serbs abruptly closed the road in late July and then shot at a British U.N. convoy coming down it, killing one soldier, General Rose declined to call in NATO or install troops to keep the road open.

Sarajevo today remains sealed and encircled.

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