First Net Print, November 23 1999
Second Net Print, November 25 1999
Third Net Print, October 30 2001
REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
PURSUANT TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY
RESOLUTION 53/35 (1998)
EVOLUTION OF THE SAFE AREA POLICY:
JUNE 1993- DECEMBER 1994
Initial implementation of the safe area policy
None of the co-sponsors of Security Council resolution 836 (1993) initially offered any additional troops to implement the resolution (though France later provided additional troops for the safe areas of Sarajevo and Bihaç, and the United Kingdom deployed troops into Gorañde). Several members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference offered large contingents. The Secretariat viewed a number of these offers with concern, however, because it was not anticipated that the Bosnian Serbs would agree to their deployment, and because these troops ability to perform their duties would be dramatically curtailed if such consent was not given.
In addition to the difficulties associated with securing a sufficient number of troops in general, UNPROFOR encountered the problem of Member States refusing to allow the deployment of personnel already in theatre to the safe areas. The initial UNPROFOR deployment in Srebrenica consisted of elements of the Canadian battalion. The UNPROFOR Force Commander informed the Secretariat on 25 September that he had ordered elements of a Nordic battalion to replace the Canadians following their scheduled rotation out of the enclave, but that the Commander of the Nordic battalion, acting on instructions from the Government of Sweden, had refused. The Canadians therefore remained in Srebrenica until elements of a Dutch battalion were able to deploy there in January 1994, following extensive delays caused by Serb obstruction.
Despite the political difficulties associated with deploying units to Srebrenica, the UNPROFOR presence there remained at a strength of 2-3 infantry companies for most of the period under review. This force level corresponded broadly with the Option (b) laid out in the French Government memorandum of 19 May. It was also consistent with the light option described by the Secretary-General in his report to the Security Council of 14 June. Although some concerns were voiced about force levels, UNPROFOR reported that the Canadian presence was sufficient to carry out the tasks assigned to UNPROFOR in the enclave. Furthermore, UNPROFORs overall strength in Bosnia and Herzegovina did increase steadily in response to the additional responsibilities entrusted to it, rising to a peak of over 30,000 troops by mid-1995, with the United Kingdom and France providing the largest troop contributions.
The Igman crisis
The safe area regime faced its first major test in August 1993. On 30 July, Serb forces launched the last phase of an offensive that secured for them important positions on Mt. Bjelasnica and Mt. Igman near Sarajevo. In so doing, the Serbs, who already controlled most of the strategic high ground in the Sarajevo area, further increased their domination over the valley in which Sarajevo lies. By early August, Serb forces on Mt. Igman were poised to cut the last Government-held road out of Sarajevo. Sarajevo, which had depended on this route for military and other supplies, would be completely cut-off.
On 2 August, President Izetbegoviç announced that he was withdrawing from the peace negotiations then taking place in Geneva, and would not return until Serb forces withdrew from Mt. Igman. That evening, the Secretary-General of NATO, Dr. Manfred Wörner, informed the United Nations Secretary-General that the North Atlantic Council (NAC) had considered a proposal by one of its members to use NATO air power in support of the negotiations in Geneva. Dr. Wörner also forwarded a copy of a statement he had issued, saying that the alliance had decided to prepare for stronger measures, including air strikes, to be used if the strangulation of Sarajevo continues. He added that these measures would be under the authority of the United Nations Security Council and within the framework of relevant Security Council resolutions. He referred also to full coordination with UNPROFOR, operational options for air strikes, including the appropriate command and control and decision-making arrangements, but these were not specified.
There then ensued an exchange between the two organizations concerning the use of NATO air power. The Secretary-General of the United Nations reaffirmed his strong support for the principle that the use of air power could help to achieve objectives established by the Security Council. He added, however, that he was concerned about the views of certain members of the North Atlantic Council that the proposed air strikes should take place at times and places of NATOs choosing. He stated that any such action should be taken only after he had had the opportunity to receive the advice of his Special Representative in the former Yugoslavia given the Organizations responsibility for the security of its personnel there. He also stressed the importance of maintaining a distinction between close air support, which was a limited and defensive tool in which air attacks were used to protect UNPROFOR personnel under immediate attack, and air strikes, which were an offensive tool, to be used against targets which might be distant from the battlefield in order to bring about some broader military or political goal.
The North Atlantic Council met again on 9 August, approving command and control arrangements under which the first use of air power would be authorized by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was also agreed that the execution of air strikes would take place only with the agreement of the UNPROFOR Force Commander and NATOs Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces South (the dual key arrangement), and then only when each had authority to proceed. Three air strike options were also approved under which a progressive escalation of air strikes was envisaged. Option 1 (First Strike Phase) would be the use of air power against targets that were militarily significant and visibly impeding or preventing implementation of Security Council resolutions. Option 2 (Follow-on Phase) would involve the use of air power against a wider set of targets associated with the siege. Option 3 (Expanded Zone of Action) would be the use of air power outside the immediate areas under siege.
Almost immediately, differences of interpretation emerged between NATO and the United Nations on these arrangements. NATOs stated objectives were to provide support for UNPROFOR, to support the Geneva negotiations and to demonstrate its solidarity and resolve. In particular, NATO saw these arrangements as an instrument to induce the Bosnian Serbs to lift without delay the siege of Sarajevo and to ensure that the surrounding heights and means of access to the city were placed under UNPROFOR control. Further, NATO saw them as an instrument to bring about an end to provocations that were jeopardizing the delivery of humanitarian aid. The United Nations Secretariat, meanwhile, while welcoming NATOs support for UNPROFOR, remained concerned about the vulnerability of its personnel on the ground to retaliatory action by the Bosnian Serbs.
Bearing in mind these various perspectives, the Secretariat engaged in serious internal debate on the matter, and soon thereafter communicated to UNPROFOR its view on the circumstances under which resolutions 836 and 844 provided for the use of air power. These were:
a). In self-defence;
b). In reply to bombardments against the safe areas;
c). In response to armed incursions into the safe areas; and,
d). To neutralize attempts to obstruct the freedom of movement of UNPROFOR forces or humanitarian convoys.
The UNPROFOR Force Commander developed a concept for the use of air power within these parameters, specifying the particular criteria which would trigger its use in given situations. He stressed, however, that to ensure the best possible deterrence by this weapon, doubt must exist as to the exact criteria used to determine its use. In fact, publishing criteria ... concerning the level of casualties or destruction which would be used to initiate air support could lead the belligerents to commit hostile actions just below the threshold. On 18 August the Secretary-General was able to inform the Security Council that the operational capability to deploy air power in support of UNPROFOR was in place. (S/26335).
The Bosnian Serbs agreed with UNPROFOR on 14 August that they would pull back from key positions on Mt. Bjelašnica and Mt. Igman, which was done under UNPROFOR monitoring. UNPROFORs Bosnia and Herzegovina Command assessed that the more cooperative stance adopted by the Serbs was attributable, at least in part, to the threat of air strikes.
Proposals to exchange Srebrenica and ðepa for Serb-held territory around Sarajevo
Following the Serb withdrawals from Mt. Bjelašnica and Mt. Igman, President Izetbegoviç resumed his place in the peace negotiations in Geneva and, later, aboard the United Kingdom warship HMS Invincible. The package finalized aboard the Invincible called for the establishment of a Union of Three Republics: one with a Bosniac majority, one with a Croat majority, one with a Serb majority. The Bosniac-majority republic would have covered 30 percent of the land area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Srebrenica and ðepa. The Serb leaders were in favour of the plan in principle, but were opposed to the arrangements for Srebrenica and ðepa, which, for strategic reasons, they wanted to be in the Serb-majority republic. They proposed an exchange of territories with the Bosniac leadership, under which Srebrenica and ðepa would be ceded to the Serb-majority republic in return for which certain Serb-controlled territories around Sarajevo would be included in the
Representatives of the Bosniac community gathered in Sarajevo on 28 and 29 September to vote on the peace package. A delegation of Bosniacs from Srebrenica was transported to Sarajevo by UNPROFOR helicopter to participate in the debate. Prior to the meeting, the delegation met in private with President Izetbegoviç, who told them that there were Serb proposals to exchange Srebrenica and ðepa for territories around Sarajevo. The delegation opposed the idea, and the subject was not discussed further. Some surviving members of the Srebrenica delegation have stated that President Izetbegoviç also told them he had learned that a NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina was possible, but could only occur if the Serbs were to break into Srebrenica, killing at least 5,000 of its people. President Izetbegoviç has flatly denied making such a statement. Following this private meeting, the Bosniac Assembly met in full session, voting not to accept the Invincible package as it stood, and calling for further talks and the return of all territories taken by force.
Following the decision by the Bosniacs not to accept the Invincible package as presented, peace talks were reconvened, even as fighting continued on the ground. Over the coming months, a modified version of the Invincible package was developed under the auspices of the European Union. Under the European Union Action Plan, as it was called, the Bosniac-majority republic was to include 33.5 percent of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Again the maps included Srebrenica and ðepa in the territory to be administered as part of the Bosniac-majority republic, and again the Serbs proposed exchanges of territory. Bosniac leaders met with Serb leaders in Sarajevo and elsewhere to discuss arrangements under which Srebrenica and ðepa might be ceded to the Serb-majority republic, but, as far as the United Nations is aware, no agreement was reached on the subject. The peace initiative within which context these deliberations took place eventually collapsed in January 1994.
Markale massacre and disagreements on the use of air power
On 5 February 1994, a mortar round exploded in the Markale marketplace in downtown Sarajevo killing sixty-eight people, mostly Bosniac civilians, and injuring over 200. Images of the carnage, which were captured by television crews, were then transmitted around the world, provoking outrage. The incident followed another one the day before, in which 10 people had been killed by Serb mortar fire while queuing for water in the Dobrinja area of Sarajevo. Representatives of France, the United Kingdom and the United States met in New York to discuss these attacks, agreeing that the United Nations Secretary-General should be encouraged to support robust action by NATO. Upon being informed of their views, the Secretary General wrote to the President of the Security Council that "these two incidents make it necessary, in accordance with operative paragraphs 9 and 10 of resolution 836 (1993), to prepare urgently for the use of air strikes to deter further such attacks." (S/1994/131) He also wrote to the Secretary-General of NATO on 6 February as follows:
I should be grateful if you could take action to obtain, at the earliest possible date, a decision by the North Atlantic Council to authorize the Commander-in-Chief of NATO's Southern Command to launch air strikes, at the request of the United Nations, against artillery or mortar positions in or around Sarajevo which are determined by UNPROFOR to be responsible for attacks against civilian targets in that city." (S/1994/131)
The UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, opposed this approach, apparently on the grounds that it might drag the United Nations into war. He endeavoured to convince his own Government not to support a wider use of NATO air power designed to force the Serbs to the negotiating table. He later described how he intervened when he thought that a senior Minister of his Government, under pressure from the Americans and NATO, was wobbling seriously on the subject of air strikes.
The UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina proposed what he believed to be a more balanced arrangement that would relieve the pressure on Sarajevo without resort to force. He brought the two sides together in Sarajevo on 9 February, urging them to support a four-point agreement under which there would be a cease-fire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons to a distance of 20 km, a positioning of UNPROFOR troops along the confrontation line, and the establishment of a Joint Commission to review implementation of the agreement. The Serbs agreed immediately, partly, in the view of the UNPROFOR Commander, because of the threat of air strikes. The Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been reluctant when the terms of the ceasefire had been explained to them the previous evening. The UNPROFOR Commander, however, told them that the first United Nations investigation of the bomb crater in the market place indicated that the bomb had been fired from the Bosnian side of the battle lines or perhaps detonated in situ. In fact, subsequent analysis contradicted this finding, but the suggestion was apparently effective, as, after some further pressure from the UNPROFOR Commander, the Bosniacs also agreed to cease-fire terms which, they felt, worked to their disadvantage.
The Secretary-General of NATO informed the United Nations Secretary-General on the same day that the North Atlantic Council had met and had agreed to respond positively to the United Nations request to authorize air strikes to prevent further attacks on Sarajevo. The Council had called for the withdrawal, or regrouping and placing under UNPROFOR control, within 10 days, of the Serbs heavy weapons to a distance of at least 20 km from the centre of Sarajevo (Sarajevo Exclusion Zone). It had also called for the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to place its weapons under UNPROFOR control, and for a ceasefire. And the Council had decided that those weapons of the parties which remained within the Sarajevo Exclusion Zone after 10 days would be subject to air strikes, along with their direct and essential military support facilities.
As the deadline approached for Serb heavy weapons to be withdrawn, some United Nations officials began to express concern about the way in which events appeared to be moving. Senior representatives of the Secretariat, ICFY, UNPROFOR and UNHCR met on 16 February to discuss the issue of possible air strikes around Sarajevo. Some of the participants expressed serious reservations about the NATO intention to launch air strikes against heavy weapons which had not been withdrawn or placed under UNPROFOR control by 20 February. They expressed the view that the NATO strategy appeared to be based on what they felt was a questionable assumption that air strikes would, by demonstrating NATOs resolve, strengthen international credibility and elicit Serb compliance with the international communitys plans for a Bosnian settlement. Other participants recall having largely agreed with the NATO strategy, and having sought to use it as a way of complimenting UNPROFORs negotiations with the Serbs.
Many, though not all, of the weapons were withdrawn or regrouped by both sides by the required deadline, and the ultimatum and ceasefire, while not ending all combat activity in the Sarajevo area, did lead to a substantial reduction in the number of firing incidents and a stabilization of the confrontation line. UNPROFOR later built upon these positive developments, by negotiating a freedom of movement agreement between the parties on 17 March 1994. Under the terms of this agreement, a number of blue routes were opened, along which limited numbers of civilians from both sides could move. The humanitarian situation in the safe area of Sarajevo substantially improved during this period, and some degree of normalcy returned to life in the city for a period of several months, after which the situation gradually deteriorated again.
With the establishment of the Exclusion Zone around the safe area of Sarajevo, UNPROFOR established a significant presence on the Serb side of the confrontation line for the first time. This was opposed by some observers, who felt that UNPROFOR personnel would be potential hostages in times of crisis. Nevertheless, several hundred UNPROFOR troops, mainly from France and the Ukraine, were deployed to Serb-held areas around the city to monitor the Weapons Collection Points in which Serb weapons had been confined. A Russian battalion was also deployed in the Serb-held city district of Grbavica.
United Nations assessment of the safe area policy as of March 1994
Despite the arrangements entered into with NATO, and the force-multiplying characteristics of air power which were then available to support the UNPROFOR mission, the United Nations Secretariat and UNPROFOR became increasingly frustrated at the lack of troops made available by Member States, including the co-sponsors of resolution 836, to implement the safe area policy. Under the circumstances, UNPROFOR found robust implementation of the safe area policy to be impossible. Prior to his departure in December 1993, the then Commander of UNPROFORs Bosnia and Herzegovina Command commented that his mission had been beset by a fantastic gap between the resolutions of the Security Council, the will to execute these resolutions, and the means available to commanders in the field. He added that he had stopped reading Security Council resolutions.
In his report to the General Assembly (A/48/847) of 7 January 1994 the Secretary-General noted that against the authorized strength of 7,600 additional troops for the safe areas, fewer than 3,000 troops had arrived in theatre nearly seven months later. He added that problems remained with the deployment of troops from Pakistan (3,000 offered) and Bangladesh (1,220 offered) since the Governments concerned had declared their inability to equip their soldiers adequately for the required tasks. He noted also that the Bosnian Serbs had not complied with the terms of resolutions 819 (1993), 824 (1993) and 836 (1993). Concerning the safe area of Sarajevo, he reported that the Serbs had failed to lift the siege and that shelling of the safe area had increased.
The concern within the United Nations Secretariat and among UNPROFOR commanders about the gap between expectations and resources increased following the Declaration of Heads of State and Government of the North Atlantic Council of 11 January 1994. That Declaration reaffirmed NATOs readiness to carry out air strikes in order to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo, the safe areas and other threatened areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina. (S/1994/131) It also urged the UNPROFOR authorities to draw up plans to ensure that a blocked rotation of UNPROFOR contingents in Srebrenica and ðepa could take place and to examine the opening of Tuzla airport for humanitarian purposes. This was done, though the Secretary-General wrote to the Security Council on 28 January that any attempt to achieve those tasks other than with the consent of the parties would entail considerable risk for UNPROFORs operations and for the troops involved in its implementation, as for the humanitarian assistance operation. (S/1994/94, para. 14) A series of negotiations followed, after which the rotation of UNPROFOR troops in Srebrenica and ðepa continued, though with restrictions imposed by the Serbs.
The concern over the gap between expectations and resources was further heightened on 4 March 1994 when, by its resolution 900 (1994), the Security Council asked the Secretary-General to report on the feasibility of extending the safe area regime to cover Maglaj, Mostar and Vitez. This option was rejected by the Secretary-General in his report to the Security Council (S/1994/291) of 11 March 1994. In that report, the Secretary-General noted that the effectiveness of the safe area concept depended on the attitude of the parties and on the resolve of the international community as perceived by the parties. In that context, he argued that minimal assets may be adequate to ensure basic survival: the safe areas of Gorañde, Srebrenica and ðepa have not been subjected to attack even though UNPROFORs presence was confined to two companies in Srebrenica, one company in ðepa and only eight unarmed military observers in Gorañde ... UNPROFOR has saved lives by its presence in the safe areas, but that has not made these areas truly safe. Noting that UNPROFOR was not able, with the resources available, to relieve appalling living conditions, the Secretary-General expressed the view that the safe area concept might work better if those troops exempt from demilitarization would have to be effectively prevented from taking tactical military advantage of their presence in a safe area. Equally, the presence of UNPROFOR in such areas must be of a sufficient level not only to deter attack but also to permit the development of normal conditions of life.
A subsequent report (S/1994/300), dated 16 March 1994, expressed broader reservations about the safe area policy. In it, the Secretary-General stated his concern that the safe areas were being used by the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) as locations in which its troops can rest, train and equip themselves as well as fire at Serb positions, thereby provoking Serb retaliation. He also repeated his view that, for the safe area concept to be sustained, there would have to be full demilitarization by both sides on agreed conditions, assured freedom of movement, the impounding or withdrawal of heavy weapons and extensive UNPROFOR deployment. Given the lack of resources, he stated, the active cooperation of the parties is indispensable to the viability of the safe areas.
129. The Secretary-General was particularly concerned about the problem of impartiality, which is normally considered to be the bedrock of successful peacekeeping operations. He argued as follows:
The steady accretion of mandates from the Security Council has transformed the nature of UNPROFORs mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and highlighted certain implicit contradictions. For a long while, UNPROFORs primary mandate in Bosnia and Herzegovina was seen as assistance in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, an objective that could be attained only with the active cooperation of the parties. The increased tasks assigned to UNPROFOR in later resolutions have inevitably strained its ability to carry out that basic mandate. The principal consequences have been the following:
a). Several of the newer tasks have placed UNPROFOR in a position of thwarting the military objectives of one party and therefore compromising its impartiality, which remains the key to its effectiveness in fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities;
b). As a result of the changed perception of its impartiality, the Force has suffered increased incidents of obstruction and harassment, particularly by the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat parties, in its attempts to discharge its humanitarian responsibilities;
c). The new tasks require resources that have not been provided expeditiously by the international community ....
Despite these concerns, the Secretary-General advised against redefining the mandates commensurate with the resources the international community is prepared to make available to UNPROFOR. He noted with some optimism the close collaboration that has developed between the United Nations and NATO with regard to the former Yugoslavia. In particular, he noted that the threat of NATO air power was effectively used to bring about a positive result in the safe area of Sarajevo. He therefore concluded that soldiering on in hope seems preferable to withdrawing in abdication.
The attack on Gorañde: March-April 1994
UNPROFOR made its first request for NATO air support on 12 March 1994. A Serb tank had been bombarding Bihaç, and a number of rounds had landed close to French UNPROFOR positions in the safe area. The UNPROFOR battalion commander passed his request for the deployment of close air support to UNPROFOR Headquarters. Close air support was not deployed, however, due to a number of delays associated with the approval process, which was being tested for the first time.
A more serious test came when Serb forces began an offensive against the safe area of Gorañde on 31 March. As Serb forces entered the enclave and approached the town itself, there was extensive debate within the international community, and within the United Nations, as to how to respond. UNPROFOR was opposed to the use of force to deter Serb attacks. The UNPROFOR Commander informed the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina that UNPROFOR was a peacekeeping force that could use only a limited degree of military force to deter attacks against the safe areas. Only the Security Council in New York could make the necessary changes to the UN mandate to allow strategic-level air strikes to take place. Writing to United Nations Headquarters on 8 April 1994, the UNPROFOR Commander stated that, by choosing to adopt the light option with respect to force levels, the international community had accepted that the safe areas would be established by agreement as opposed to force. This choice, he maintained, was a clear rejection of a policy of peace-making or peace enforcement and an acceptance that the task would be achieved through peacekeeping means.
The UNPROFOR Commander held the view that a Serb attack on Bosnian Government forces defending a confrontation line around a safe area would not meet UNPROFORs definition of an attack on a safe area. Accordingly, he sought to halt the offensive by agreement. During the first ten days of April, he organized a series of cease-fire negotiations, but these did not lead to any agreement. UNPROFOR later concluded that the Serbs had used negotiations with the United Nations as a cover for the prosecution of their offensive.
Despite the failure of the ceasefire negotiations, the UNPROFOR Commander assessed that the Serbs would advance no further towards Gorañde. On 10 April, however, Serb forces resumed their advance. He then warned General Mladiç that, unless the attacks into Gorañde stopped, air strikes against his forces would be called for, in accordance with Security Council resolution 836.
When Serb artillery and tank fire into the town continued on the afternoon of 10 April, UNPROFOR asked for NATO close air support to begin. The Serbs impression that the air attacks were to be part of a broader effort to halt their advance was reinforced when initial efforts to locate and destroy attacking tanks were not successful, due to poor weather conditions; NATO was asked instead to target an artillery command facility. At 1826 hours, close air support was conducted, three bombs being dropped by US F-16 aircraft, resulting in the destruction of the facility. The Serb bombardment of Gorañde stopped. General Mladiç warned UNPROFOR that United Nations personnel would be killed if the NATO attacks did not stop.
The next day, 11 April, the Serb bombardment of Gorañde resumed. The UNPROFOR Commander initiated further close air support, with the SRSGs approval, which targeted one Serb tank and two armoured personnel carriers, reportedly destroying them. Again Serb bombardments stopped, and again General Mladiç threatened to retaliate against United Nations personnel, against UNPROFORs headquarters in Sarajevo and against the attacking aircraft.
Relative quiet follow for three days, but was interrupted on 14 April when the Serbs took approximately 150 United Nations personnel hostage, most of them UNPROFOR troops stationed at heavy weapons collections points in Serb-controlled territory near Sarajevo. The next day critical defense lines of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina broke, bringing Serb forces to the edge of the built-up area of Gorañde. The United Nations was deeply divided as to what was happening on the ground. The United Nations military observers, supported by UNHCR, believed that the Bosniacs were defeated and that the Serbs, taking advantage of their military superiority, were subjecting the civilian population of Gorañde to heavy bombardment. The UNPROFOR Commander, supported by a small team of British observers then present in the enclave, believed, as he has since written in his memoirs, that the Bosnian Army had probably retreated in order to embroil the United Nations and NATO in the war ... In the narrow passes and ravines anyone could have stopped the [Serb] tanks with a crowbar ... the Bosnians had turned and run, leaving the United Nations to pick up the pieces. He also felt that the reports filed by the United Nations military observers had been inaccurate, exaggerating the extent of the attacks on civilian targets.
The Serbs launched a tank assault on the remaining Bosnian army forces to the east of Gorañde town on 16 April. The UNPROFOR Commander initiated the further use of close air support, which the SRSG approved. While attempting to engage Serb tanks, however, a NATO aircraft was brought down by a Serb anti-aircraft missile. NATO and the United Nations had differing interpretations of this event. NATO commanders expressed concern that UNPROFOR had asked the pilot to make several passes over the target, to confirm that the targeted tank was indeed attacking, thus exposing the aircraft to danger. The Commander-in-Chief of NATOs Southern Command informed the Commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina that, due to the risk to his aircraft, he would not approve any further attacks on tactical-level targets, but only on strategic-level ones. That evening, it was announced that the Serbs had agreed to a ceasefire and the release of United Nations hostages in return for a halt to combat air patrols over Gorañde.
As Serb forces continued to advance, the United Nations was divided as to how best to respond. A senior adviser to the SRSG proposed some psychological action in place of military action that [could] break the deadlock in the political situation. The adviser proposed, amongst other measures, offering the Serbs independence, or lifting the sanctions against them. However, the United Nations Secretariat was moving in a less conciliatory direction. The Secretariat proposed to the SRSG to establish a concept that would provide for a more assertive protection of the safe areas to prevent a recurrence of the developments of Gorañde. The Secretary-General subsequently requested NATO to authorize its commanders to launch air strikes, at the request of the United Nations, against artillery, mortar positions or tanks in or around the safe areas.
Two sets of decisions were accordingly taken by the North Atlantic Council on 22 April. The first set of decisions stated that the Commander-in-Chief of NATOs Southern Command would be authorized to conduct air strikes against Bosnian Serb heavy weapons and other military targets within a 20 km radius of the centre of Gorañde (but inside the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina) ... unless:
a). Bosnian Serb attacks against the safe area of Gorañde cease immediately;
b). Bosnian Serb forces pull back 3 km from the centre of the city by 0001 GMT on 24 April;
c). From 0001 GMT on 24 April, United Nations forces, humanitarian relief convoys and medical assistance teams are free to enter Gorañde unimpeded, and medical evacuations are permitted.
The second set of decisions stated that a military exclusion zone was being established for 20 km around Gorañde, which calls for all Bosnian Serb heavy weapons ... to be withdrawn by 0001 GMT on 27 April. It was decided that similar military exclusion zones could be activated around any of the other safe areas, if, in the common judgement of the NATO Military Commanders and the United Nations Military Commanders, there is a concentration or movement of heavy weapons within a radius of 20 km of these areas ... It was also agreed that:
a). with immediate effect, if any Bosnian Serb attacks involving heavy weapons are carried out on the United Nations-designated safe areas of Gorañde, Bihaç, Srebrenica, Tuzla and ðepa, these weapons and other Bosnian Serb military assets, as well as their direct and essential military support facilities, including but not limited to fuel installations and munitions sites, will be subject to NATO air strikes ...
b). after 0001 GMT on 27 April, if any Bosnian Serb heavy weapons are within any designated military exclusion zone as described above, these weapons and other Bosnian Serb military assets, as well as their direct and essential military support facilities, including but not limited to fuel installations and munitions sites, will be subject to NATO air strikes ...
Finally, the Council called upon the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina not to undertake offensive military action from within the safe areas and, to this end, to cooperate with any UNPROFOR monitoring of their heavy weapons.
Also on 22 April, the Security Council adopted resolution 913 (1994). The resolution demanded a ceasefire agreement and condemned the Serbs for their attacks on the Gorañde safe area. It demanded that the Serbs should withdraw their forces and weapons, but also, for the first time, placed substantial limits on the actions of Bosniac Government forces. Paragraph 4 of the resolution called for an end to any provocative action by whomsoever committed in and around the safe areas.
The next day an agreement was reached in Belgrade, in the presence of Serbian President Miloševiç, between the SRSG and the Bosnian Serb leaders Karadñiç, Krajišnik and Mladiç. UNPROFOR attempted to induce the Serbs to consent in the agreement to as many elements of the NAC decisions as possible, thus providing them a face-saving measure. However, representatives of the Bosnian Government were not present and were not a party to the agreement. The agreement, which was to come into effect on 24 April, provided for a ceasefire, a demilitarization of the area within 3 km of the town centre, the evacuation of the wounded and free movement for UNPROFOR and humanitarian organizations. The agreement did not require the Serbs to withdraw from the overwhelming bulk of the territory they had taken around Gorañde, leaving them in control of approximately 15 percent of what had previously been presumed to be the safe area of Gorañde. The Secretariat later noted in several reports to the Security Council that the absence of clearly demarcated boundaries for the safe areas (other than for Srebrenica and ðepa) had complicated UNPROFORs efforts to determine the extent of attacks launched against or from them.
On 24 April, Ukrainian and French UNPROFOR troops entered the safe area. Although the situation on the ground remained unstable, and Serb compliance with the NATO decisions remained poor, Serb forces advanced no further. Relations between UNPROFOR and the Serbs, which had become strained during the offensive, improved somewhat over the coming period, particularly after 3 May when the SRSG approved a request from Dr. Karadñiç to redeploy a few tanks through the Sarajevo exclusion zone on tank carriers and under UNPROFOR escort. This was strongly criticized by the Secretariat and the SRSG has since indicated that, with the benefit of hindsight, he regretted having agreed to this movement.
Reviewing the Serb offensive, UNPROFOR officials assessed that the Serbs had advanced in a series of steps, pausing to ascertain whether or not NATO would use force against them. When the Serbs were satisfied that they could move forward without escalating attacks from the air, they did so. UNPROFOR also assessed that, at least in the short term, the NATO ultimatum had put pressure on the Serbs not to press home their attack on Gorañde. In the words of the then UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was NATO air power that helped deter attacks by the Bosnian Serbs against the safe areas, and that preserved the Total Exclusion Zones for heavy weapons around Sarajevo and Gorañde.
Secretary-Generals report of 9 May 1994 (S/1994/555)
Following the Serb offensive on Gorañde, the Secretary-General submitted to the Security Council a major report on the safe area policy. The report was intended to inform the Council of results achieved and lessons learned, as well as to propose some improvements... (S/1994/555)
The Secretary-General began by reviewing the safe area mandate, and by stating that the concept had been applied with a greater degree of effectiveness in Srebrenica and ðepa than in the other safe areas, due to the demilitarization agreements in effect for those two areas. He was also relatively positive about the situation in Sarajevo, where the threat of NATO air intervention had made it possible to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal and regrouping under UNPROFOR control of heavy weapons. He added that implementation of the agreement had been a success -- Sarajevo had been free of heavy weapons attack since the entry into force of the agreement -- because of enforcement by a credible third party, which was willing to use air strikes in the case of non-compliance.
Concerning Gorañde, the Secretary-General was less positive. He noted that the shortage of troops available to UNPROFOR, and the unwillingness of the parties to negotiate, had constrained UNPROFOR: there were only eight observers in the enclave when the Serb offensive began, and UNPROFOR had been unable to delineate the boundaries of the safe area. He also noted that the first use of close air support had led to the Serbs detaining United Nations personnel and obstructing freedom of movement. He concluded that the Serbs had only agreed to withdraw forces from a 3 km zone, and to withdraw heavy weapons from a 20 km zone, because of much effort on the part of UNPROFOR, coupled with the further threat of NATO air strikes.
Despite this assessment that the threatened use of NATO air power had been effective at critical moments around Sarajevo and Gorañde, the Secretary-General expressed caution about the further use of air power by NATO. He stressed that UNPROFOR had to ensure that any use of air strikes was based on verified information, also noting that the use of air power would expose United Nations military and civilian personnel to retaliation. The agreement of NATO to act only in full consultation with UNPROFOR addresses these concerns.
The Secretary-General then noted the failure of the parties to understand or fully respect the safe-area concept, and that UNPROFOR found itself in a situation where many safe areas were not safe, where their existence appeared to thwart only one army in the conflict, thus jeopardizing UNPROFORs impartiality. Looking for a way ahead the Secretary-General stated that he had made a careful analysis of the relevant Security Council resolutions and reports, and understood UNPROFORs mission as follows:
To protect the civilian populations of the designated safe areas against armed attacks and other hostile acts, through the presence of its troops and, if necessary, through the application of air power, in accordance with agreed procedures.
This conscious use of the word protect was aimed at obtaining the Councils acquiescence in a broader interpretation of the safe area mandate than the initial resolutions had warranted. However, the Secretary-General noted UNPROFORs limited ability to perform this mission, and stated that should UNPROFORs presence prove insufficient to deter an attack, it could be required to resort to close air support to protect its own members or to request air strikes to compel an end to the attack on the safe areas.
The Secretary-General asked the Council to mandate UNPROFOR to establish, on its own responsibility, the operational boundaries of the areas the Force found itself able to protect. He said that the delineation of the safe areas proposed by UNPROFOR would be practical and achievable from a military point of view. He then requested the Council to consider redefining the safe-area concept to embrace three principles, namely that:
a). The intention of the safe areas was primarily to protect people and not to defend territory and that UNPROFORs protection of these areas was not intended to make it a party to the conflict;
b). Implementing the safe area policy should not, if possible, detract from UNPROFORs mandate to support humanitarian assistance operations and to contribute to the overall peace process through the implementation of cease-fires and local disengagements;
c). The mandate should take into account UNPROFORs resource limitations.
The Security Council was divided as to how to proceed. The Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina made a number of comments, particularly with respect to the safe area policy. Concerning the Secretary-Generals statement that UNPROFOR has attempted to redefine the safe-area concept, focusing on the protection of civilian populations rather than territory, he quoted from the statement made by the Permanent Representative of France at the time of the vote on resolution 836 (1993). Explaining the vote of his Government, the latter had said that resolution 836 (1993) addresses a paramount political objective: maintaining the territorial basis for the development and implementation of the peace plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina. (S/1994/575). In the end, the Security Council did not respond at all to the Secretary-Generals concerns about the implementability of the safe area concept, or to his proposed adjustments to it.
The Contact Group peace plan
Following the Serb assault on Gorañde, a period of relative calm returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina for several months. Intensive efforts by the Government of the United States led to the end of the war between the Bosnian Government and the Bosnian Croat party. A ceasefire negotiated by UNPROFOR was signed on 23 February 1994, a framework peace agreement was signed on 1 March and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established by the Washington agreement of 10 May 1994. In April 1994, a Contact Group had been established, bringing together representatives of France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. From that point onwards, the Contact Group largely assumed the peacemaking role in Bosnia and Herzegovina that had hitherto been exclusively with the ICFY. In all three communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina there was some expectation that the peace plan being prepared by the Contact Group might bring an end to the conflict, and this apparently contributed to a substantial reduction in fighting. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations were able to take advantage of this lull to bring more humanitarian aid into the country than at any time since the beginning of the conflict.
The Contact Group unveiled its peace plan on 4 July 1994. The territorial arrangements provided for 51 percent of the country to be administered by the Bosniac-Croat Federation, and the remaining 49 percent of the country to be administered by the Bosnian Serb authorities. The members of the Contact Group were aware that the peace plan might not be agreeable to all parties, and particularly the Bosnian Serbs. Accordingly, the Contact Group had developed what it called a package of disincentives which would be brought to bear on whichever side rejected the peace package. The disincentives included, principally, three measures: the imposition of a stricter sanctions regime, the imposition and strict enforcement of heavy weapons Total Exclusion Zones around each of the six safe areas, and, as a last resort, the lifting of the arms embargo on the side which had accepted the package. The United Nations expressed certain concerns about the disincentive package. The Secretary-General wrote to the President of the Security Council on 24 July suggesting that UNPROFORs operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina would cease to be viable if the Contact Group countries were to apply the disincentives by force. He later explained, in a subsequent report to the Security Council (S/1994/1067), that the further application of sanctions was not found to be objectionable, but that the strict enforcement of Total Exclusion Zones around the safe areas would place UNPROFOR unambiguously on one side of an on-going conflict.
The rejection by the Serbs of the Contact Group plan led both the Serbs and the Government to intensify their military operations. The Serbs withdrew five heavy weapons from an UNPROFOR-monitored weapon collection point near Sarajevo on 5 August. UNPROFOR requested a limited NATO air action against a Serb armoured vehicle inside the Sarajevo exclusion zone. The Secretary-General then reported to the Security Council that no further weapons had been withdrawn, but that fighting had nevertheless continued in the area of Sarajevo. As the fighting escalated, there were increasing calls from NATO and others for a more robust response from UNPROFOR. On 9 September the United Nations Secretariat expressed its concern to UNPROFOR that it might not be responding sufficiently, within its existing mandate, to Serb military activity around the safe areas of Bihaç and Sarajevo.
UNPROFOR was divided on this issue. The UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina opposed the wider use of force, on the grounds that NATO air attacks jeopardized the United Nations humanitarian mission, exposed United Nations personnel to retaliation by the Serbs, and crossed the Mogadishu line which separated neutral peacekeeping from war fighting. He also noted that the fighting around Sarajevo involved transgressions by Government forces as well as by the Serbs, even proposing, at one point, the use of NATO air power against ARBiH targets which had violated the agreements in effect, though this was rejected by NATO. There were dissenting views within UNPROFOR, opposing what was referred to in one communication as a policy of endless appeasement. Nevertheless, the view of the UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was broadly supported by his immediate superiors in Zagreb, the Force Commander and the SRSG, prevailed.
Serb assault on the safe area of Bihaç: October-December 1994
From late 1993 to mid-1994, the situation around the safe area of Bihaç had been dominated by the conflict between two Bosniac armies. Forces loyal to the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, principally the 5th Corps of the ARBiH, controlled the town of Bihaç and the other principal population centres in the enclave. The northern part of the enclave, however, had been controlled by forces loyal to Fikret Abdiç, who had been elected to the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990, and who had now styled himself President of the Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia. Although outnumbered, the forces loyal to Abdiç were sustained by military support from the Croatian Serbs and by political and economic support from the Government of the Republic of Croatia. The situation changed dramatically in August 1994, however, when Government forces defeated the Autonomists, causing Abdiç and some 35,000 of his Bosniac supporters to seek refuge in nearby Serb-held areas of Croatia.
Freed from its internal conflict with the Autonomists, ARBiH 5th Corps effected a break-out from the safe area of Bihaç on 23 October 1994. Advancing south of Bihaç, the Bosniacs briefly took control of several hundred square kilometres of territory including the strategic Grabez Plateau and the town of Kulen Vakuf on the Croatian border. A concerted Serb counter-attack against the over-extended Bosniac forces began in the first days of November 1994. Bosnian Serb units advanced from the south and south-east; Croatian Serb units and Bosniac units loyal to Fikret Abdiç advanced from the northwest and north, supported by air assets based in the Serb-held areas of Croatia. Cluster bombs and napalm were used during these air attacks, albeit on a limited scale. The Bosnian Serb units had soon crossed the lines of confrontation as they had stood prior to the Bosniac break-out, and were approaching the southern limits of Bihaç town.
On 16 November, the Secretariat instructed UNPROFOR to inform the Bosnian Serbs of the exact delimitation of the safe area of Bihaç, and that any attack against that safe area would result in the use of air power. This was done and air power was employed in a limited fashion on 21 November, when an air strike was conducted against the Udbina airfield. NATO wished to neutralize the airfield and associated facilities altogether, but UNPROFOR insisted that only the airstrip should be struck, and not the aircraft operating from it. This, the SRSG believed, was a necessary and proportionate response to the attacks made by the Serb aircraft on the Bihaç safe area.
The Secretariat then informed UNPROFOR that some Security Council members were in favour of preventive or even extensive air strikes to deal with a Serb incursion, but emphasized that the decision on how to use air power would be left to the commander on the ground. Advancing Bosnian Serb forces crossed into the newly delineated safe area on 23 November, taking high ground known as Debeljaca. The Secretariat then received a number of démarches from Member States, calling on UNPROFOR to authorize NATO to conduct punitive and pervasive air strikes throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. UNPROFOR expressed reluctance.
Following criticism from a number of national leaders that UNPROFOR had failed to deter attacks on the safe area of Bihaç, the Secretariat convened, on 28 November, a meeting of troop-contributing countries to raise the issue of whether they wished to have their forces participate in more robust enforcement action from the air. The Secretariat explained that NATO was reluctant to conduct air attacks against the Bosnian Serbs without first suppressing Serb air defense assets in the area, and that the UNPROFOR commanders had been unable to agree to such a widespread use of air power, which would be tantamount to going to war with the Serbs.
The Secretariat added that the commanders in the field were opposed to widespread and generalized air strikes. (Indeed, the UNPROFOR Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina later stated, In determining the goals to be pursued and the level of force, I could not, as a commander, ignore the primary humanitarian aspects of the mission, or ever forget that 2.7 million people were still dependent on United Nations aid for their survival. Every time I called for NATO air strikes the movement across Serb-held territory was halted and people died.) The Secretariat concluded its briefing by indicating that, if the troop-contributing States wished the commanders to be over-ruled, the Secretary-General would be prepared to seek Council authorization to cross the line that divides peacekeeping from peace enforcement.
Seventeen Permanent Representatives then took the floor, nine of them, including three permanent members of the Security Council, in support of UNPROFORs relatively restrictive interpretation of the mandate, while eight expressed their inability to understand why more robust action was not being taken. No firm decision was taken. Over the coming days fighting continued on the outskirts of Bihaç and the Serbs continued to bombard positions inside the safe area. The Serb attack then faltered, and by 3 December the confrontation line had stabilized.
Secretary-Generals report of 1 December 1994 (S/1994/1389)
As the crisis in Bihaç was unfolding the Security Council adopted resolution 959 (1994), in which the Secretary-General was requested to update his recommendations on the modalities of the implementation of the concept of safe areas and to encourage the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), in cooperation with the Bosnian parties, to continue their efforts to achieve agreements on strengthening the regime of safe areas... The Secretary-General submitted his report (S/1994/1389) to the Council on 1 December 1994, as Serb forces continued to operate from within the safe area of Bihaç.
The Secretary-General began his report by recalling that he had pointed out that UNPROFOR would require some 34,000 troops in order to effectively deter attacks on the safe areas, but that the Council had only authorized a light option of 7,600 additional troops, the last of whom had arrived in theatre a year later. He then noted that the safe area policy had been applied more effectively in Srebrenica and ðepa, but also noted the heightened fear of the towns inhabitants about their vulnerability to a Serb attack resulting from broader political and military developments. This point was not developed, except to say that the Serbs had obstructed international access to all three eastern enclaves, which had hampered UNPROFOR patrolling and impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The Secretary-General was relatively positive about the safe areas of Tuzla and Sarajevo. The living conditions of the residents of Sarajevo improved greatly during the four months following the agreement of 9 February 1994 on the withdrawal and placement under UNPROFOR control of heavy weapons, and the subsequent agreement of 17 March 1994 on freedom of movement. The availability of utilities in and around Sarajevo increased significantly during this period. He noted that the situation had then deteriorated again somewhat after August.
Concerning the situation in Bihaç, the Secretary-General noted that UNPROFOR had clearly delineated the safe area, but that Serb forces had nevertheless crossed into the area. He said that UNPROFOR was focusing its efforts in three areas: negotiations with the parties with a view to reaching an agreement on immediate cessation of hostilities and demilitarization of the Bihaç safe area; measures to stabilize the situation on the ground, including preparations for the implementation of an agreement; and attempts to secure access for UNPROFOR resupply as well as humanitarian convoys. He added: The recent experience in Bihaç has demonstrated once again ... the inherent shortcomings of the current safe area concept, at the expense of the civilian population, who have found themselves in a pitiable plight.
Analysing the experience of UNPROFOR in the safe areas, the Secretary-General elaborated on three themes: the limitation of deterrence and the consequences of air power; the use of safe areas for military purposes; and the delineation of the safe areas. Concerning the first, he stated that, the experience at Gorañde and Bihaç provide stark evidence that in the absence of consent and cooperation, the light option, adopted as an initial measure and supported by air power alone, cannot be expected to be effective in protecting the safe areas. He then noted a number of technical constraints limiting the effectiveness of air power. He referred to the difficulty of identifying suitable targets for air action, to the increased presence of Serb surface-to-air missiles (which UNPROFOR was unwilling to have suppressed, because it might provoke the Serbs to attack its personnel), and to other problems. The extreme vulnerability of UNPROFOR troops to being taken hostage and to other forms of harassment, coupled with the political constraints on a wider air action, greatly reduce the extent to which the threat of air power can deter a determined combatant.
Concerning the use of safe areas by Bosnian Government forces for military purposes, the Secretary-General stated that most of the offensive activities undertaken by Government forces from the Bihaç pocket were not launched from within the safe area as defined by UNPROFOR. However, the fact that this large-scale offensive was conducted from the headquarters of the Fifth Corps in the town of Bihaç contributed, in the judgement of UNPROFOR, to the Bosnian Serb attack upon the town. He then noted that there were military installations located in all the other safe areas, except Srebrenica and ðepa, where the safe area concept was being applied more effectively.
Concerning the delineation of the safe areas, the Secretary-General stated that the non-existence of clearly defined boundaries seems to have led to a certain confusion as to the size and configuration of the Bihaç safe area, and created false expectations on the part of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina as to the extent of the responsibilities of UNPROFOR.
The Secretary-General introduced his proposals for a modified safe area regime as follows:
The lessons described above create a need to reconsider the safe area concept ... Moreover, as explained above, the use of force and, in particular, air power to protect the safe areas cannot be effective if it becomes a destabilizing factor and impedes the primary humanitarian mission of UNPROFOR ... The use of force beyond a certain point would exacerbate the condition of the civilian population, heightening the risk to UNPROFOR personnel, preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance and intensifying the conflict throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina ... Nevertheless, it is important for the international community to remain committed to a safe-area regime even without an agreement by the parties and to continue to demand compliance with the relevant decisions by the Security Council. UNPROFOR recognizes that the protection of the population of the safe areas cannot depend exclusively on the agreement of the parties. It must also be accepted, however, that the ability of a peacekeeping force such as UNPROFOR to enforce respect for the safe areas by unwilling parties is extremely limited, unless additional troops and the necessary weapons and equipment are made available.
He then expressed his belief that, in order to achieve the overriding objective of the safe areas, i.e. protection of the civilian population and delivery of humanitarian assistance, the current regime needs to be modified to include the following:
a). Delineation of the safe areas;
b). Demilitarization of the safe areas and cessation of hostilities and provocative actions in and around the safe areas;
c). Interim measures towards complete demilitarization;
d). Complete freedom of movement.
In his concluding observations, the Secretary-General stated that UNPROFOR would not be able to take on the above tasks without adequate additional resources. He also said that he did not believe that UNPROFOR should be given the mandate to enforce compliance with the safe area regime ... such a mandate would be incompatible with the role of UNPROFOR as a peacekeeping force.
The Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina argued that the demilitarization of the safe areas as a stand-alone measure could actually have the counter-productive impact of exposing the safe areas and their population to greater danger; and that any reworking of the safe area concept should be founded primarily on the strengthening of the will and capacity, including that of UNPROFOR and NATO, to defend and deter attacks on the safe areas. He criticized the Secretary-General for promoting disarmament by the Bosniacs without any concomitant commitment to protect the people once disarmed. He stated that although his Government had expressed a willingness to demilitarize certain areas, UNPROFORs and NATOs previous responses to attacks on the safe areas do not engender confidence. He added that the same Member States which were promoting the demilitarization of Bosnian Government forces were those who were blocking consensus on a more muscular UNPROFOR and more active and resolute NATO. Commenting on the Bosniac arguments, the SRSG opined that the demilitarization of the safe areas would be accompanied by the cessation of attacks, hostilities or other provocative action against the safe areas or the populations therein.
Updated, zondag 26 januari 2003
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