United Nations peacekeepers were threatened from both sides of the Bosnian war Tuesday, in a further sign of how quickly the U.N. mission here is deteriorating.
Bosnian government soldiers defending the “safe area” of Zepa surrounded the U.N. camp there and said they would use the 65 Ukrainian peacekeepers inside as human shields against rebel Serb attacks unless the United Nations called in NATO air power.
The Bosnian Serbs targeted the same Ukrainian camp and said they would start shooting if NATO warplanes appear.
“It’s a Catch-22 situation without an outcome that will satisfy (either of the two) parties,” said U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko. “It just shows what it means being a peacekeeper in an ongoing war.”
The Bosnian Serbs have routinely taken U.N. peacekeepers hostage or threatened their well-being. Now, a desperate, increasingly disillusioned Bosnian government army is borrowing their tactics, both stealing U.N. weapons and confining peacekeepers.
One U.N. official said the showdown in Zepa, apparently the first of its kind where peacekeepers are imperiled from both sides at the same time, represents the best argument to date for withdrawing the mission altogether from the Balkans.
This latest crisis comes as major Western powers and Russia debate the future of the increasingly impotent U.N. peacekeeping force, which has seen Bosnian Serb defiance thwart each of its principal duties, from the delivery of humanitarian aid to the protection of civilians in six designated safe areas.
Among the options under consideration is the deployment of British and French troops, in American helicopters, to bolster protection of Gorazde, the third and last eastern enclave and home to about 60,000 Bosnian Muslims and 410 British and Ukrainian peacekeepers.
Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, threatened to attack any Western troops or aircraft involved in such a rescue mission. “Whoever sides militarily with the Muslims must be aware that this would entail a war against the Serbs,” Karadzic said in a statement issued Tuesday night from his headquarters in Pale, nine miles southeast of Sarajevo. “We shall be forced, in self-defense, to shoot down the helicopters and aircraft which protect the Muslim army.”
Bosnian Serbs pounded Zepa, which has an estimated 16,000 Muslim inhabitants, with artillery and tank fire for the fifth consecutive day but failed again to overrun the enclave. Spokesmen for the U.N. mission could not be sure whether the nationalist Serbs had advanced since all of their monitors were either hostages, surrounded or otherwise restricted.
The rebel Serbs, on a campaign to wipe out the last vestiges of Muslim presence in eastern Bosnia, have so far refused a plea by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to negotiate the evacuation of the elderly, women and children from Zepa. Izetbegovic said he hoped to avoid the alleged atrocities, including gang rapes and the murder of civilians, reportedly committed by Bosnian Serbs when they captured the safe area of Srebrenica last week and expelled more than 30,000 Muslim refugees in the largest single forced exodus - “ethnic cleansing” - of the 39-month war.
He said that removing the weak, sick and civilians would free up the army and militia to better defend the town. Asked if such an evacuation wasn’t the kind of “ethnic cleansing” that the rebel Serbs wanted, Izetbegovic said: “Yes, it is. But there is something worse than ‘ethnic cleansing’ - ethnic killing.”
xxxx THREE VIEWS ON BOSNIA President Clinton’s senior foreign policy advisers agreed Tuesday to propose that NATO allies launch “aggressive” air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions around the exposed Muslim enclave of Gorazde to shore up the United Nations mission in Bosnia. U.S. officials said the air strike plan was part of a U.S. response to a French proposal to use U.S. helicopters, with American crews, to ferry hundreds of French troops into Gorazde to reinforce the 400-strong U.N. peace-keeping contingent there. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole directly challenged Clinton’s Bosnia policy Tuesday, seeking a binding Senate resolution that would require the United States to lift a weapons ban on the Balkans. Dole says lifting the embargo would bring a quick relatively clean end to a longfailed effort to mediate a bloody civil war. House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested Tuesday that the United States should mobilize massive military power to prevent Serb forces from overrunning the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The United States and its allies cannot allow themselves to be pushed around by “a small band of barbarians,” Gingrich said.