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U.N. Secretary-General to Call for 13,000 Troops in Balkans

By John M. Broder
and Carol J. Williams

Los Angeles Times


U.N. Secretary General Boutros Ghali, fearing a fragile truce in the six-month Yugoslav civil war would soon collapse, Thursday recommended the rapid dispatch of as many as 13,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops to the Balkans, U.N. officials said.

Ghali will send a written recommendation to the Security Council early next week, asking that the force be deployed immediately, U.N. spokesman Francois Giuliani told reporters. Diplomats predicted that the council would swiftly approve the recommendation.

The secretary-general acted shortly after receiving a report from Cyrus R. Vance, the U.N. special envoy for Yugoslavia. Vance, a former U.S. secretary of state, reportedly urged the dispatch of U.N. troops after being assured that forces of the Croatian independence movement would abide by the terms of an internationally supervised cease-fire.

Giuliani said as soon as the council approves the large multinational force, the first soldiers would begin arriving, "within a couple of weeks." The force would be the second largest in U.N. history, after the 20,000-man Congo operation in the 1960s. He said the Yugoslav deployment would cost an estimated $400 million a year.

On Wednesday, Ghali received a letter from Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, repeating his unconditional acceptance of the U.N. peacekeeping plan for Croatia and its Serb-controlled enclaves.

While Tudjman has indicated acceptance of the U.N. peace plan, leaders of the Serb-held Krajina region in southwestern Croatia, remain opposed to the deployment of international forces. Milan Babic, the leader of an ethnic Serbian enclave Krajina in western Croatia, rejected the U.N. plan and Thursday warned of "large casualties" if peacekeepers are sent.

Giuliani said Ghali was aware of the opposition but decided to send the peacekeepers to prevent the current cease-fire from unraveling.

"We are not going in with eyes closed," Giuliani said. "Certainly we are concerned. But there also is a judgment that the decision to deploy is the best possible in view of the dangers on the ground if the decision is not taken."

Ghali met Thursday with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council to discuss the mission. The five are the United States, which heads the council this month, Britain, China, France and the Soviet Union. No date was set for formal action on the peacekeeping mission, but U.N. officials said it likely would occur early next week.

The composition of the multinational force was not announced, although about 30 nations, most of them European, have been asked to contribute personnel for the force. Excluded will be Germany, whose constitution forbids it, and Yugoslavia's neighbors, such as Austria, Italy and Hungary.

In eastern Croatia, new cease-fire violations were reported Thursday. At least two people were killed and seven were wounded, Zagreb radio said. Croatia's mid-Adriatic port of Zadar also came under attack overnight, according to the radio reports.

At least 10,000 people have died since fighting erupted in Yugoslavia after the western republics of Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from the disintegrating federation last June.

Yugoslav federal troops joined forces with the dominant republic of Serbia in the effort to prevent Croatia's secession, hoping to preserve as much of the former Yugoslav state as possible. One of the largest standing armies in Europe with 180,000 troops, the Yugoslav People's Army would have no reason to exist without the Balkan federation, and land-locked Serbia could not afford to support the massive infantry, air and naval forces by itself.

When a nationalist, non-Communist government won Croatia's first multi-party elections in half a century in the spring of 1990, Serbian militants within the republic began arming themselves in anticipation of confrontation with the Zagreb leadership.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic vowed to preserve a united country in which all Serbs could live, and he is believed to have organized the rebellions that broke out in Serbian communities of Croatia in August 1990.

Citing the rhetoric of Tudjman and a need to protect Croatian Serbs from a feared genocide, rebels like Babic declared vast areas of eastern Croatia independent from the secession-bound republic. That sparked conflicts with Croatian police and security forces dispatched by Zagreb to quell the revolts.

Those clashes gradually escalated, expanding into full-scale war after Croatia declared independence and the federal forces joined the Serbian militants and guerrillas. Outgunned and outmanned, Croatia has since lost about one third of its territory to Serbian control.

The U.N. troops are expected to deploy to three designated crisis areas along Croatia's 350-mile eastern border; most of the areas are now occupied by Serbs and the army. The deployment plan includes many of the ethnically mixed towns and villages that have been the scenes of intense fighting.

If the U.N. troops are seen by either side as aiding the other, they could come under fire by hostile or renegade fighters who feel they have been cheated in the intervention deal. Forces loyal to Babic have already warned they will shoot at any foreign troops who enter their territory without their leader's permission.