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Peace Search in Bosnia Stalled Since Start of Gorazde

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The stalled search for peace in Bosnia suffered more setbacks Thursday after the U.N. commander here insulted Muslim-led government forces and the prime minister said he would resume truce talks only when U.N. forces ensure security in battered Gorazde.

There were also troubling reports of Serb heavy weapons headed for another vulnerable stretch of government-held territory and of tanks and artillery pieces being repositioned in the hills around Sarajevo.

Foreign mediators embarked on another diplomatic initiative to end the Bosnian war by meeting with leaders of the warring factions. But the distrustful atmosphere that has pervaded this war-weary capital since the recent Gorazde offensive seemed unlikely to be dispelled by repackaged proposals and hopeful chatter.

The deadly Bosnian Serb assault on Gorazde, a U.N.-protected "safe haven," has angered Bosnian government officials who feel more could have been done by the peacekeeping force to deter the killing and destruction.

The U.N. commander for Bosnia, British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, has also made clear he is disgruntled with the government's failure to defend the mostly Muslim enclave, even though a U.N. arms embargo has prevented the government from acquiring the means of fighting off the heavily armed Bosnian Serbs.

Rose sparked an embarrassing controversy with remarks made in a brief visit to Gorazde Wednesday, when he was videotaped telling British soldiers that government troops expected the United Nations "to fight their wars for them."

"They basically turned and ran and left us to pick up the bits. They weren't that interested," Rose said of government forces whose defenses around Gorazde collapsed three weeks into the Serb offensive. He also asserted that the numbers of dead and wounded from the month-long Serb assault had been exaggerated and that the physical damage to the "haven" was not as considerable as he had been led to expect.

Rose said the director of the Gorazde hospital, which was destroyed by Serb shelling, thought the figures of 700 killed and 2,000 wounded "were indeed an exaggeration."

His remarks prompted angry responses from Bosnian officials, who pointed out that the U.N. ban on delivery of weapons to any former Yugoslav republic has tied the hands of the fledgling government forces in battles with the Bosnian Serbs who inherited the vast arsenal of the Yugoslav Peoples Army.

Rose met with Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic to smooth over the controversy, which U.N. spokesman Cmdr. Eric Chaperon asserted was taken out of context. "That tape should not have been released," Chaperon said, describing Rose's remarks as having been made in a private discussion "from soldier to soldier" on various theories for the government's failure to hold a key ridge around Gorazde.

But Rose has often accused government forces of trying to take advantage of military opportunities opened by the U.N. presence, and the clear imbalance of armaments created by the U.N. embargo made his remarks appear insensitive, at best.

Silajdzic used the meeting with Rose to push for more vigorous enforcement of U.N. and NATO orders for withdrawal of Serb troops and heavy weapons from around Gorazde. Chaperon conceded that some Bosnian Serb gunmen, wearing blue police jumpsuits instead of army camouflage, remained inside the 1.9-mile safety zone declared around central Gorazde.

U.N. sources also report increasing instances of forbidden heavy weapons showing up within a similar exclusion zone proclaimed around Sarajevo in February. One senior official said the mission knows of at least five tanks, six anti-aircraft guns and two to three howitzers over 120-mm caliber.