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Former U.N. Leader MacKenzie Speaks on Behalf of Serb Forces

By Dele Olojede and Roy Gutman
Newsday

UNITED NATIONS

The former U.N. commander in Bosnia has participated in a speakers tour funded by a Serbian-American advocacy group that seeks to dispel the internationally accepted view that Serb fighters were principally responsible for the mass killings, rape and ethnic cleansing that has destroyed the former Yugoslav republic.

In an interview with Newsday, retired Canadian Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie said he has done nothing unethical or improper in connection with last month's tour. MacKenzie last week acknowledged in a telephone conversation from Ottawa that his tour was funded by the group, SerbNet, but said he does not know how much he was paid. In his public appearances, including congressional testimony last month, MacKenzie never disclosed SerbNet's financial support.

MacKenzie said that he customarily receives up to $10,000 an appearance and that he "wouldn't be surprised" if SerbNet paid that rate through his agent.

Accepting money from an advocacy group violates no laws or official policies of the United Nations, but a top U.N. official, who asked to remain anonymous, said, "We quite frankly are displeased with his lack of judgment." MacKenzie, who served as the top U.N. peacekeeper in Bosnia for six months in 1992, argues that all the parties in the Balkans war are to blame for atrocities.

"Dealing with Bosnia is a little bit like dealing with three serial killers -- one has killed 15, one has killed 10, one has killed five," MacKenzie testified before the House Armed Services Committee last month. "Do we help the one that's only killed five?"

That view puts MacKenzie at odds with reports by the United Nations, the United States and international human rights groups that have found the Serbs primarily responsible for the ethnic cleansing and mass killings. Serbian groups support MacKenzie's position, which tends to minimize the role of Serbian fighters.

It was one such group, the Serbian American National Information Network -- or SerbNet -- that sponsored MacKenzie, according to the group's newsletter and treasurer Milan Visnick. The Chicago-based group was formed by several professional, business and religious organizations representing ethnic Serbs in the United States to "articulate the Serbian position" because "Serbs have suffered mightily at the hands of the world media in the last year," according to the founders.

"We were very pleased that there was someone to speak more favorably of the Serbs," said Visnick, who refused to discuss the financial details of the trip, but confirmed that SerbNet was a sponsor. In a recent internal bulletin, SerbNet said the MacKenzie tour -- and other efforts by Serbia's American sympathizers -- have led to the organization's "most successful month yet in bringing the Serbian-American perspective before the wider public."

During his trip, MacKenzie, 53, gave more than a dozen speeches and interviews questioning the value of U.S. military intervention to rescue Bosnia's Muslims. He repeated his oft-stated assertion, for example, that "the vast majority" of cease-fire violations that he observed in Bosnia were committed by Muslims.

"My position is always of objectivity because I don't blame only the Serbs," he told Newsday. "I'll continue to say things exactly the way I see them."