Academic journal article Global Governance

The Political Challenges of Administering Eastern Slavonia

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Political Challenges of Administering Eastern Slavonia

Article excerpt

The United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) was established by the Security Council on 15 January 1996 and ended on 15 January 1998. Given the task of administering a disputed territory, it was later described in the following terms:

    With the weight of a 5,000-strong mechanized peacekeeping force and
    the watchful eyes of NATO behind it, the U.N. oversaw--in one of the
    most successful multifaceted peacekeeping operations in its
    history--the peaceful restoration of Croatian sovereignty while
    creating the conditions necessary for the maintenance of the
    region's multiethnic character. (1)

UNTAES was neither the first nor the largest UN operation charged with territorial administration, and subsequent operations such as in Kosovo and in East Timor have certainly been more complex. Indeed, both geographically and temporally it was a small mission. But in several respects, and always bearing in mind that no two peace operations are ever the same, UNTAES turned out to be something of a proving ground for ideas, methods, and procedures and a highly useful demonstration of the extent to which multilateral organizations, in this case the United Nations, can assist war-torn territories on the long road to the return of peace and stability.

Following the declaration of independence by Croatia in the summer of 1991, fighting broke out, and the parts of Croatia with significant Serb populations--the Krajina, Western Slavonia, and Eastern Slavonia--fell under the control of local Serbs assisted by Serb paramilitaries and the troops of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). The local Serb administration of the three geographically separated areas gave itself the name of Republika Srpska Krajina. From September to November 1991, the rich agricultural and industrial town of Vukovar in Eastern Slavonia was besieged and subjected to savage fighting that resulted in extensive structural damage. Almost all the Croats in the region fled to Osijek and Croatian-held territory and were replaced by Serbs who were similarly displaced from their homes and took refuge in Serb-controlled Eastern Slavonia. In May and July 1995, operations by the Croatian Army recovered the Krajina and Western Slavonia and brought additional numbers of displaced Serbs into Eastern Slavonia. Thus, at the time when UNTAES was established in January 1996, there were some 125,000 people living in the region, predominantly either indigenous or displaced Serbs with comparatively small numbers of Hungarians, Ruthenes, and other minorities.

In the autumn of 1995, as the Dayton agreement was being hammered out to bring an end to the war in Bosnia, there was still a danger that President Tudjman of Croatia might be tempted to recover Eastern Slavonia militarily and thereby probably precipitate renewed conflict between Croatia and Serbia, which in turn might unravel the tenuous peace in Bosnia. (2) The U.S. ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, and UN mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg worked with the authorities in Zagreb and Belgrade to negotiate an agreement for Eastern Slavonia, and the result was the Basic Agreement signed in Erdut, on the western bank of the Danube, on 12 November 1995.

The Basic Agreement and Security Council Resolution 1037 of 15 January 1996

Unlike the Dayton agreement, with its hundreds of pages and detailed maps, the Basic Agreement consisted of only fourteen paragraphs. In essence, it called upon the Security Council to authorize an international force to maintain peace and security in the region and to "establish a Transitional Administration, which shall govern the region during the transitional period in the interest of all persons resident in or returning to the Region." The Transitional Administration was given the tasks of reestablishing the normal functioning of all public services "without delay," helping to establish and train temporary police forces, ensuring the possibility for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes of origin, and in due course organizing elections. …

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