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U.N. Chief Wants to Cut Size of Force in Croatia : Balkans: Plan would trim troops from 14,000 to 2,500 by November. Two battalions would patrol last Serb area.


WASHINGTON — U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on 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 major remaining Serb-controlled territory in Croatia. But he warned that it might be difficult to keep even those troops for very 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 Balkan developments:

* At a Washington news conference, Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey described the new American peace initiative--which would divide Bosnia-Herzegovina in half--as similar to aborted peace initiatives of the past. He insisted that the latest approach, delayed for a week by the deaths of three American diplomats in a road accident near Sarajevo on 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 eastern Bosnia amid arguments over whether the peacekeepers' departure will make the besieged Muslims there safer than before. Once the troops leave, the Muslims will be under the protection of North Atlantic Treaty Organization 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.

The secretary general said Eastern Slavonia, which borders Serbia, is the only area left in Croatia where the United Nations still could patrol a confrontation line between Croatian forces and the Croatian Serbs. In the formerly Croatian Serb-controlled region of Krajina, reconquered by the Croatian army in its offensive earlier this month, there are barely 5,500 Serbs left, Boutros-Ghali said. He estimated that there now are 165,000 Croatian 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 such breaches of cease-fire agreements as the Serbian shelling of the Croatian port of Dubrovnik.


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 Serbian homes in the Croatian army offensive. "Although there were no sightings of houses actually being set alight," he said, "many of the reports indicated that Croatian troops were in the close vicinity of the burning houses and in many of the areas in question all the inhabitants had already fled."

In Washington, Sacirbey, the Bosnian foreign minister, said the Americans had not presented his government with any new proposals for carving up Bosnia. He said the U.S.-proposed map--on the table for more than a year--would still divide Bosnia into two almost equal halves, with 51% going to the federation of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and 49% to the Bosnian Serbs.

But he hinted that the new U.S. plan, which has not been published in detail, provides a package of economic aid to Bosnia. "When we enter, hopefully, an environment of peace," he told a news conference, "then that environment should be one that allows for our nation not to be a financial-economic cripple."

Sacirbey, however, described the American plan as still not fully defined. He said "we need the greatest measure of clarity and commitment" on one major issue--"the mechanism or measures that would be applied if the Bosnian Serbs or Belgrade [Serbia] or both did not accept the peace plan."

He said the Serbs would accept the plan if they believe, for example, that a refusal would mean the end of the embargo on arms sales to Bosnia. In the past, he said, the Clinton Administration had promised to punish the Serbs for rejecting plans but had not fulfilled the threat.

In Bosnia, the United Nations said it has withdrawn 75 Ukrainian peacekeepers from the Gorazde enclave and will pull 170 British peacekeepers in the next several weeks. The United Nations plans to leave a dozen unarmed observers and a few air controllers to guide NATO warplanes, if needed.

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