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U.N. Secretary-General Proposes Major Withdrawal from Croatia

By Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times

U.N. secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali Thursday proposed the withdrawal of most international peacekeepers from Croatia now that victorious Croatian troops have frightened hordes of Serbs into fleeing disputed territory once patrolled by the United Nations.

In a report to the Security Council, he recommended keeping just two battalions of U.N. troops in the tense area of Eastern Slavonia, the only major Serb-inhabited area still left in Croatia. But he warned it might be difficult to keep even these troops long in the face of "high levels of tension, lack of cooperation by both sides and a volatile military situation."

Under Boutros-Ghali's proposals, which had been anticipated, the U.N. Croatia force of 14,000 troops would dwindle to 2,500 by mid-November.

In other Balkans developments:

-At a Washington news conference, Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey described the new American peace initiative - which would divide Bosnia in half - as similar to aborted peace initiatives of the past. He insisted the latest approach, delayed for a week by the death of three American diplomats in a road accident near Sarajevo last Saturday, would not work unless the Clinton administration threatens Bosnian Serbs with realistic punishment if they refuse to accept it.

-The United Nations continued to withdraw its small contingent from the "safe area" of Gorazde in Bosnia-Herzegovina amid arguments over whether its departure will make the besieged Muslims there safer than before. Once the troops leave, the Muslims will be under the protection of NATO air power.

At the United Nations, Boutros-Ghali said the withdrawal from Croatia had already begun. Under an earlier Security Council resolution, he had the authority to reduce the force there to 8,750. The added reductions will have to be approved by the council.

Boutros-Ghali said Eastern Slavonia, which borders Serbia, is the only area left in Croatia where the United Nations still could patrol a confrontation line between Croat forces and the Croatian Serbs. In the other Croat Serb areas, reconquered by the Croatian army in its offensive of early August, there are barely 5,500 Serbs left, the secretary-general said. He estimated that there now are 165,000 Croat Serb refugees in Serbia and Bosnia.

Aside from duties in Eastern Slavonia, Boutros-Ghali said peacekeepers could continue to play a useful role in Croatia as military observers, investigating breaches of cease-fire agreements.

He added that peacekeepers also could monitor any human rights violations by Croatian police in those Croat-controlled areas where small minorities of Serbs remain. In this regard, he said there were numerous reports of burning and looting of Serb homes in the Croatian army offensive.