As diplomats in New York begin urgent discussions about an expanded mission for the U.N. military force in Croatia, their commanders in the field are worried that the troops will be given a mandate without the means to fulfill it.
Their fears are heightened because of emerging confusion about whether the U.N. forces will be expected to merely monitor Croatia’s international borders, or whether they will be ordered to actually search vehicles in an effort to stop the ferrying of weapons to areas of Croatia held by Serbs. The latter job, depending on how large an area it would cover, could require 10,000 troops.
The broader mission has been requested by the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, who first said that the U.N. troops would have to leave when their current mandate expired on March 31. Then, after negotiations with Washington, Tudjman agreed that the U.N. forces could stay if their numbers were smaller and their responsibilities greater.
A senior U.N. military officer said on Tuesday: “We have been so burned by mandates that were militarily impossible that we’re determined this time not to get burned again.” The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was critical for the United Nations “to define very clearly” what the peacekeeping troops would be expected to do along the border.
And the United Nations is still seeking approval for the agreement from the separatist Croatian Serbs, who control about 30 percent of the country. Without approval from the Croatian Serbs, it will be virtually impossible for U.N. forces to enter regions under their control.
The president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, has summoned leaders of the Croatian Serbs to Belgrade, and U.N. officials said on Tuesday that the senior U.N. official here, Yasushi Akashi, will also meet with them.
The U.N.’s work in keeping the warring factions apart since the Croatian civil war ended in 1991, has been one of its successes.