ICG Bosnia Project, 27 March, 1996
The present situation is stable and diplomats and senior members of the UN Transition Authority in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES), set up to implement the Basic Agreement, expressed cautious optimism that the transition will work. However there is a certain level of risk that the agreement will fail and that military intervention by Croatia will ensue. Croatia is certainly capable of acquiring the region by force. (The risk of intervention by Serbia is small or non-existent. What is more likely is that local Serbs will obstruct the process beyond a reasonable time, thereby inviting Croatian action as happened in the Krajina in 1995.) It is highly unlikely, however, that any intervention by Croatia would occur much before the end of the first mandate period of 12 months or late 1996/early 1997. The reasons are the following:
The Croatian Defence Minister has stated that his government will give the Transition Administrator 12 months to put the agreement in place;
So far, the Croatian authorities have been cooperating fully with UNTAES, in much the same fashion that they cooperated with UNPROFOR after the signing of the US-Russian brokered ceasefire of 30 March 1994. The Croatians seem likely to make every effort to show that, in the event that the Agreement is not implemented, they will not have been responsible and in fact will have supported the Agreement to the letter (if not the spirit).
There is strong international and diplomatic pressure upon Croatia to behave with restraint. However, if it is believed that the agreement is not proceeding after a reasonable period, say 7-9 months into the mandate, either through Serb obstruction or because of mission inadequacies, this pressure is sure to soften.
In sum, the longer it takes the UN to establish itself and to begin successful implementation of the Agreement, the higher the risk of military intervention by Croatia. It is therefore important to watch for the signs which would indicate a rising level of risk. These are:
No action by Board members would appear useful at present except to underline the need for donor countries to meet their obligations to provide troops and police of good quality and on time. There is also a case for impressing on potential donors, once they have been identified, the need for funds for rebuilding accommodation for Serbian returnees to Western Slavonia. We will make some suggestions in our next report.
The Basic Agreement between the parties was signed on 12 November 1995 and came into force with the passage of UN Security Council resolution 1037 (1996) dated 15 January 1996. It provided for the establishment of a Transitional Administration to govern the region during a 12 month-period, extendible for an additional 12 months at the request of one of the parties. The agreement and its enabling resolution covers, inter alia, demilitarization, establishment of police forces, population movement, restoration of property and assistance in reconstruction. A UN mission entitled UNTAES (UN Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia) comprised of a 5000-person military force, a UN Civilian Police force together with supporting UN civilian staff is to be set up to assist the Administrator in carrying out the mandate. The UN has appointed an American, Mr. Jacques Klein as the Transitional Administrator, and Major General Schoups of Belgium as the military commander.
Interviews and Visits
An ICG team consisting of John-Arch MacInnis, Christopher Bennett and Brian Steers visited Zagreb, Erdut and Osijek in Croatia during the period 19-22 March 1996. In Zagreb, John-Arch MacInnis had discussions with Peter Galbraith, Mr. Derek Boothby, UNTAES Deputy Administrator, Mr. Jaque Grinberg, UN Liaison Office, (formerly head, analysis and assessment unit), Brigadier P. Peeters, UN military analyst, and the Canadian Ambassador, Mr. Graham Green and embassy staff. The team then met with the Force Commander, Major-General Scoops in Erdut, with Nevenka Levak, columnist with Glas Slavonija newspaper and Graham Day, UN civil affairs officer in Osijek.
Summary of Discussions
Although none of our interlocutors used the word "optimistic", there is widespread expectation at the political level that the transition will work, perhaps better than the Dayton agreement, and will go some way towards restoring Eastern Slavonia to a multiethnic society. This "cautious confidence" as one put it, is based upon the fact that the leaders seem to want it to happen. Unlike Pale, Serb leaders want their people to stay. President Milosovic of Serbia has appointed his foreign minister to handle the issue as a clear signal that Eastern Slavonia is not being viewed as part of the Serbian state. There is also speculation that the oil fields will pass into Croatian hands without too much difficulty as a quid pro quo involving the Adriatic pipeline is alleged to have been worked out between Mr. Tudjman and Mr. Milosovic.
The key steps are said to be:
Serbs from other parts of Croatia who find themselves in Eastern Slavonia, are said to have a choice. They can stay, although this would severely upset the demographic ratio which existed in 1991. Alternatively, they can return to their original homes, clearly the best solution as long as Croatia provides adequate security conditions.
Leverage which can be exerted upon Croatia by the West in particular is directly proportional to Croatian desire to join the West. At present, Croatia is very disturbed by the fact that, in respect of its prospects for joining NATO for example, it is in the same category as Albania, whereas Slovenia is grouped with the Visigrad Four (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia). The time of maximum political leverage upon Croatia to do the "right thing" is at hand. Whether or not this is recognized by the Serbs is questionable. If it is not, the process may be delayed beyond the present window of opportunity2 thereby providing Croatia with an excuse to exercise a military option.
The key to a positive start appears to be Western Slavonia, where a concerted effort at reconstruction of Serb neighbourhoods could provide a strong signal of international intent and Croatian goodwill.
Operationally, mission success is defined as achieving a "seamless transition" to Croatian authority. Although a firm plan does not yet appear to be in place, the UN leadership recognizes the need for a comprehensive, coherent plan involving firm, incremental steps toward mission success. At this stage, it appears as if the leadership is grappling with the definition of governorship as included in the Basic Agreement, what exactly does it entail, for how long and what is its legal basis?
The mission is unfolding but slowly. It will set up its headquarters in Vukovar, sharing barracks with the Serbs on a temporary basis, but for now Mr. Klein and the administrative organs are located in Zagreb, the military in the UNPROFOR Sector East configuration, and Civil Affairs, the UN agency which normally manages the UN civil police (UNCIVPOL) seems split between the two. As of 22 March, 1800 soldiers,(the former UNPROFOR strength for Sector East) of the required 5000 military personnel are in place. About 100 UN military observers from 43 nations are in place or promised. Troops from Jordan and Pakistan are scheduled to arrive about 25 April; accommodation for these troops in Eastern Slavonia have not as yet been constructed. According to the Force Commander, demilitarization will only begin after he has his complete complement of military personnel on the ground.
As in Bosnia, Civilian Police (UNCIVPOL) present difficulties in terms of both quality and quantity. At least one interlocutor views this as the weakest link and maintains that, while demilitarization is important, it is far from being "the most critical element for success". The real test will be the establishment and maintenance of an atmosphere of trust and confidence under the law. Only a credible, competent UNCIVPOL can accomplish this.
Preliminary Analysis and Observations
As was the case with the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia where the South African officials were entirely behind the effort, much will depend upon the support, or at least non-obstruction, on the part of the Serbs if the mission is to proceed as laid out in the Basic Agreement and the Resolution. A similar attitude, however, is not evident at the local level, as Madeline Albright, the US Permanent Representative to the UN, witnessed during her recent visit. Events are expected to unfold in a different manner from those which characterized the handover of the Sarajevo suburbs but the basis for this belief is somewhat obscure. A good indicator to watch for will be the presence (or preferably not) of wholesale looting of industrial capacity and stripping of accommodation as occurred in Sarajevo.
Flexibility on the part of the Croats is also important, especially with regard to national sovereignty vis a vis the "governorship" of the Transition Administrator. This matter requires further investigation.
Separation of the force and its logistical base, due to be corrected after 1 April, is an issue for the force commander who, having no previous UN experience, is not at all confident that accommodation for incoming troops will be ready upon their arrival. Additionally, incoming troops are scheduled to arrive in theatre about 27 April. Based upon the author's previous experience with the troops involved, it will take at least two weeks for them to be ready to assume their tasks, provided that the bulk of them will have had previous out-of-country experience, which for the Jordanians means UNPROFOR. The best case, then, will see the military ready to begin its main task around 15 May. Additionally, the force of 5000 will consist of units from at least five countries making it extremely difficult to establish cohesion and unity of purpose in such a short time. The Force Commander has his work cut out for him.
The first key transition event will be demilitarization, wherein JNA forces (if any) are withdrawn and weapons are either moved out of the zone or collected and destroyed. This is scheduled to take thirty days from the time the UN force is operational; that is, 15 June. Several interlocutors contend that this phase would go quite well, pointing out that some weapons were being moved into Serbia under cover of darkness. There is however more to demilitarization than simply the movement of heavy weapons. Of particular concern to the team is the presence of over 1000 of Arkan's so-called tigers (or snakes) and other unacceptables whose escapades from 1991 and on had much to do with streamlining the act of ethnic cleansing.
There is also the question of the presence of over 1200 Serbian police and whether or not they are considered military (which they are, in the main), and the issue of the number of police during and post transition specifically whether or not their number will conform to international norms.
It would seem prudent that, concurrent with the demilitarization, an intense campaign of confidence building and normalization activities should be underway, involving the maintenance of law and order, resettlement and reconstruction. Unfortunately, the team did not receive much information in this regard, with the exception of one initiative under discussion involving the reintegration of Croats into several villages.
There is in fact severe skepticism about the viability of the concept of "three police in a jeep", (one Serb, one Croat, and one UNCIVPOL), a strategy which requires UNCIVPOL to have the highest level of credibility and a concept of policing which emphasizes individual liberties rather than state control. In-theatre training will help but is unlikely to overcome deficiencies such as those experienced in the IPTF.
Politically, it would be difficult for President Tudjman to spend scarce resources on reconstruction of Serb homes when there are so many Croats in the same situation, yet such reconstruction is precisely what is necessary. The team agrees that Western Slavonia, where war was forced upon all or most of the inhabitants from outside, is precisely the place to start. It is here, in this rural setting, where the international community can do the most good in the short term by rebuilding broken villages and restarting the local, essentially agricultural, economy. Such a move would encourage Serbs to return to their homes and by so doing send a strong signal to Bosnian Serbs that the exodus from Sarajevo may have been a mistake. Conclusions and Recommendations
There is a belief that UNTAES mission has a reasonable chance of success, given the support shown by the leaders involved; it is still not known, however whether or not this support will trickle down in time. If not, the Serbs will, as discussed earlier, miss another opportunity.
Operationally, the mission is coming together slowly. The move of the headquarters to Vukovar is an excellent strategy which should, when it happens, speed up developments.
The disparity among the units of the force may delay the commencement of the entire operation, but the police issue (UNCIVPOL) is more critical. Efforts to highlight the problem of quality and credibility and to redress it should be done now.
The issue of the presence of Arkan's henchmen and fellow travelers is serious and could be critical to the success of the mission.
The Board may wish to consider ways and means to encourage certain states to consider a rebuilding effort in Western Slavonia, formerly Sector West. UNPROFOR units occupying that area came from Canada (before moving to Sector South) Jordan, Nepal, and Argentina.
ICG Bosnia will continue with at least one follow-up visit soon.