Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Despondent UN Staff Question Their Role 'Why Are We Doing This?' Is a Question UN Staffers in the Former Yugoslavia Often Ask Themselves

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Despondent UN Staff Question Their Role 'Why Are We Doing This?' Is a Question UN Staffers in the Former Yugoslavia Often Ask Themselves

Article excerpt

UNITED NATIONS staffers in Zagreb are greeting new rumors of the resignation of mission chief Yasushi Akashi with delight.

Morale at the headquarters of the UN mission in the former Yugoslavia has reached yet another new low. In interviews, staffers describe as "rudderless" a $1-billion-a-year mission bereft of leadership, vision, or support.

Frustrated staffers, however, reserve their severest criticism for the UN Security Council and its Western backers.

London, Paris, Bonn, Moscow, and Washington have become dirty words at the picturesque four-acre compound that headquarters the UN's largest, most expensive, and some say least successful mission ever.

"We're seeing a complete intellectual and diplomatic vacuum," says a UN staffer who asked not to be named. "There is a feeling of 'Why are we doing this?' We're losing {peacekeepers'} lives, and there is no end in sight."

After being denied troops in the past to enforce ambitious UN resolutions, staffers bitterly complain that Western powers are giving them a 10,000-troop Rapid Reaction Force with no clear marching orders.

Since Western leaders announced the creation of the new force, its mission has been quietly scaled down from possibly using force to get food convoys into Sarajevo and other surrounded cities, to simply protecting peacekeepers. Only one order remains clear, staffers says, peacekeepers in body bags - not Serb attacks on surrounded Bosnian cities - must be avoided.

"The fact that this new Rapid Reaction Force is only going to protect United Nations people has been a real issue for people here," says one staffer. "Everyone is depressed. There's a real sense of hopelessness."

As Western leaders backtrack on the force's goals, conditions worsened for the mission on the ground.

In Bosnia, a UN heavy-weapons exclusion zone around the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo has collapsed, leaving UN troops with little more to do than count explosions in the worst shelling to hit the city in at least a year. …

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