U.N. peacekeepers and mediators proved powerless Monday to stop escalating warfare in Bosnia and Croatia. The latest display of U.N. impotence prompted growing suggestions it should withdraw.
In the words of one of its own spokesmen, Fred Eckhard, senior U.N. envoy Yasushi Akashi was “like a fireman with two hoses in his hands, trying to put out two fires at the same time.”
In talks Sunday and Monday, Akashi tried and failed to convince the Bosnian government and rebel Bosnian Serbs to renew a widely ignored four-month truce.
He had no time to dwell on that failure, flying back to Zagreb to try and convince Croats and rebel Serbs in Croatia to stop their worst fighting since a bitter 1991 war.
Attacks on U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia have increased in recent days. Over the weekend, even NATO jets summoned to stop shelling of Scandinavian peacekeepers under fire in northern Bosnia failed to deter Serbs from lobbing two more shells at the U.N. blue helmets.
On Monday, Bosnian Serbs blocked U.N. peacekeepers at a weapons collection point in the Serb-held Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza. Bosnian government soldiers briefly blocked French and Ukrainian peacekeepers in Sarajevo in their barracks and laid mines outside.
The moves illustrated once again that the U.N. presence in Bosnia is precarious, and increasingly dangerous.
Since early 1992, 162 peacekeepers have been killed in former Yugoslavia.
France already is threatening to withdraw its peacekeepers, the largest contingent in the 24,000-man U.N. force in Bosnia, in the absence of a new truce.
The U.N. forces in Croatia and Bosnia were never designed to halt the war. In Croatia, they have patrolled an uneasy truce for three years. In Bosnia, U.N. troops were deployed in huge numbers after the summer of 1992 mainly to ensure aid deliveries.
U.N. deliveries to war-torn areas of Bosnia are thought to have kept tens of thousands of people alive, and the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees cares for 3.45 million refugees in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
Despite those successes, the U.N. personnel in the field often are given vague and conflicting instructions and powers from the Security Council, itself divided over policy in Bosnia.