Weak and strong aspects of the UN mission in Croatia – field observations

By Jan Oberg

Written 1994, edited in August 2005

The Vance Plan – Mandate of Unprofor

UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, former Secretary of State, Cyrus R. Vance, successfully negotiated a comprehensive ceasefire plan after about six months of heavy fighting in the countrysides of Croatia. It was the first time in the history of the United Nations that a peacekeeping operation was to take place in what was at the time formally an internal conflict a member state of the UN. It was also the largest ever deployment of Blue Helmets.

To the TFF mitigation teams this was particularly exciting. We had discussed this option in September with several high-level politicians in Croatia as well as Serbia. They all turned it down either with reference to the principle that the UN could not engage in an internal conflict or that this was a political crisis to which they themselves would find solutions or, less explicitely of course, that this was a war which they expected to win.

In our report, “After Yugoslavia — What?” from October 1991 the arguments were brought forward for a UN Peace Keeping Operation (PKO) as buffers in and around disputed territories.

The Vance Plan (VP) implied the deployment of three types of co-functioning units: UN battalions, UN Civil Police (UNCIVPOL) and UN Civil Affairs personnel. It contained the following provisions for three, however later four, United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs) in Croatia with a majority or substantial minority of Serbs:

A. Complete demilitarization and securing arms in custody, including monitoring and verification.
B. Monitoring of and reporting on public order maintenance and human rights.
C. Assistance to humanitarian agencies of the UN.
D. Serving as buffer zones (“interposing”) where and when tension grew dangerous.
E. Patrolling inside and controlling all movements in and out of UNPAs.
F. Provide good offices (pertaining only the military observers).
G. Facilitate the return to their homes of all persons displaced during the war.
H. Observe total impartiality among the conflicting parties in all its operation.
I. Local police should be formed from residents of the UNPAs in proportion to the ethnic composition.

The overall purpose of the Vance Plan – which was seen by all as an interim agreement – was defined as “to create the conditions of peace and security required for the negotiation of an overall settlement of the Yugoslav crisis. It would not prejudge the outcome of such negotiations.”

This is extremely important. The Vance Plan did not stipulate anything about the resolution of the conflict. It provided a political time and political space for finding solutions.

Thus, the plan was a very comprehensive peace-keeping plan facilitating the further process towards peace-making and peace-building. It was an open-ended starter pointing in the direction of peace-making and peace-building. In and of itself it was not a peace plan. This is of paramount importance for understanding the criticism raised in this and succeeding chapters. Thus, UN troops, police monitors and civil affairs personnel would be deployed in certain areas in Croatia where Serbs constituted the majority or significant minorities of the population and where inter-communal tension had led to armed conflict.

UN troops – lightly armed only for self-defence and with armoured personnel carriers and helicopters – should ensure that the UNPA were demilitarized. They would patrol the UNPAs and control all traffic in and out of them to guarantee that no armament was re-introduced. Further, they would investigate any complaints made to them about violations of the demilitarized status of the UNPAs and report to the UN secretary-general. If serious tension developed, the UN forces would interpose themselves between the parties and thereby prevent hostilities.

UN police monitors (UNCIVPOL) were to ensure that local police forces carried out their duties without discriminating any nationality. UNCIVPOL were to be unarmed, have no executive responsibility but monitor the maintenance of public order. They should investigate human rights abuses and report their findings to the UN and they would have free access to all premises and facilities of the local police. Public order in the UNPAs would be the responsibility of local police forces who would carry only side-arms. Most importantly, the local police forces would be formed from residents of the UNPAs in proportions reflecting the national composition of the population which lived in the UNPA before the hostilities.

About 100 UN military observers would also be deployed to verify the demilitarization, later to be dispatched to Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The entire peace-keeping operation (PKO) would be commanded by a civilian Chief of Mission with a civil staff; under him a Force Commander would command the military element and a Police Commander the police monitors.

These forces made up what was called the United Nations Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) in Croatia, linked to the peace-keeping operation in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Finally, Civil Affairs personnel were tasked with e.g. establishing contacts between the parties, create confidence with and among local leaders, coordinate humanitarian efforts, reporting, coordinating and facilitate meetings and mediation as well as help local citizens solve their most immediate practical problems every day—human issues, legal advice, information, community affairs etc .

Demilitarization implied a) the withdrawal from the UNPAs of all Yugoslav federal army (JNA) forces and the Croatian National Guard, as well as the Territorial Defence units not based in the UNPAs; b) the withdrawal of all territorial Defence units in the UNPAs and that they cease wearing uniforms or carry any weapons; c) that Territorial Defence unit weapons be handed over to JNA or the Croatian National Guard, alternatively stored in custody by the UN forces; d) the withdrawal of all paramilitary, irregular or volunteer units from the UNPAs or, if resident inside them, that they should be disbanded and demobilized. Further, all mines should be removed.
Finally, the JNA should leave Croatia and so should all Serbian territorial, irregular, paramilitary and volunteer units.

Weak and Strong Aspects of the Vance Plan

UNPROFOR people, the Croats and the Serbs and many commentators have voiced detailed as well as more general criticism of the plan. That’s of course easy in hindsight. Until implementation nobody knew for sure that it would work or how well it would. TFF’s overall conclusion is that the Vance Plan was an excellent interim agreement, providing the necessary minimum and the maximum which the parties could be made to agree to. It is the implementation by UNPROFOR and the very low follow-up activity, or commitment, locally and in Geneva that has, in combination, stalled what could have been a progressive development towards peaceful coexistence with the Vance Plan as its point of departure.

Here follow some of the weak points:

The plan did not define the borders of the UNPAs; that was left to “an advance party of the UN force after consulting local leaders.” This caused major practical problems (see the section on so-called Pink Zones).

The plan did not define any linkage between the local and international negotiation processes (peace-making) and peace-keeping and did not contain even a hint at whether or not the UN was supposed to engage in any kind of peace-building, i.e. reconciliation, addressing the root cause of the problems and violence and help build trust and cooperation in the short and long-term perspective.
It dealt in details with military, territorial issues but not with political or economic aspects of the problem. For instance it seems fairly clear to the observer that the civil affairs component was grossly underestimated and treated as a stepchild in the operation.

The plan did not clearly define the parties but seems to build on the assumption that the main parties were the Croatian government and the Serbian government, the JNA and the Croatian and Serbian local authorities in the UNPAs. Clearly, the plan did not see the Serbs in Krajina as a central or legitimate party to the process. In fact, since they were not recognized as a party to the conflict, they opposed it vehemently under the leadership of Milan Babic, something which led to a break between the Serbian leadership under president Milosevic and Babic in Knin.

The plan is also lacking in clarity and guidance in some concrete aspects. How would the local police forces “be formed from residents of the UNPA in question, in proportions reflecting the national composition of the population which lived in the UNPA before the hostilities”? The war had changed that composition and on the Croatian side Croats had expelled all Serb policemen and vice-versa.
The number and distribution of battalions needed to carry through demilitarization is another problem. The Vance Plan did not stipulate even in rough terms how much would be needed or which sectors were most difficult.

The operative guidelines and force level and structure were probably analysed and decided in New York. Obviously there has been too few battalions in general – perhaps with the exception of Sector West which had four battalions. Equally many or more would have been needed in both Sector South and Sector East in order to carry through rapid and efficient demilitarization, and demilitarization is the key to the plan’s successful implementation and progression towards peace-making and peace-building.

It is quite obvious that the question of who has authority to do what was left out of the plan. It is implicitly taken for granted that the military arm within UNPROFOR is the most important and that sector commanders as well as the chief of the PKO as such must be a military officer. This is traditionally so, but it is anyhow not self-evident. When demilitarization has been completed, the police and civil affairs become much more central and the task of the military is transformed into providing security for civil developments. An important argument is that the Vance Plan says only what must be done but not when and seldom by whom. It conspicuously lacked a time-table.

Both of the main contenders have voiced criticism of the plan although they accepted it. The Croatian side maintains that the Vance Plan and UNPROFOR serve as a de facto protective shield for Serbian extremists and JNA/Serbian territorial gains, i.e. in fact for Greater Serbia. Croatia accepted it only because it would be an opportunity to take over full control of Croatian territory in a peaceful manner. Also, it has been argued that the UN contributed to “ethnic cleansing” in the sense of bringing people in safety from areas ravaged by warfare, implying that Serbs could make life intolerable for Croats who would then be displaced, leaving areas consisting only of Serbs.

Another important grievance is the fact that demilitarization has not been successful in Sectors South and East and that the so-called “pink zones” (see below) remain a major unsolved problem in spite of the fact that Croatia ought to have full control of these territories.

The Krajina Serbs maintains that UNPROFOR has not provided enough safety for local Serbs and that, being the object of historically repeated violations of the demilitarization agreements and human rights from the Croatian side, they cannot possibly hand in their weapons.

While most Croats – government representatives and others – refrain from directly advocating the withdrawal of UNPROFOR some do request a much larger operation primarily because they believe that is what will be needed to disarm the Krajina Serbs and then take control of it as an integral part of Croatia. But you will also find quite a few at any level who is eager to say: let UNPROFOR leave, we can and must solve this ourselves and we will, if necessary with military means.

Today the Serbs in Croatia generally express their appreciation of the presence of UNPROFOR but are highly dissatisfied with implementation of the mandate. A typical grievance is that UNPROFOR’s HQ in Zagreb is siding with Croatia and do not understand the local situations, although many local UN staff do. They are convinced that the UN is under heavy influence from countries who are just eager to get at the throat of Serbia and Serbs. Particularly softline Krajina Serbs are of the opinion that UNPROFOR lacks initiative and a strategy for peace-building (see section on Sector West).

To summarize the analysis of the Vance Plan:
We are in no doubt that the Vance Plan was the best possible under the circumstances in Yugoslavia as well as in the international community, at the time. The points above are easy to raise in hindsight. No plan being the outcome of negotiations within this complex conflict formation, could have been perfect. During the implementation phase, lots of unforeseeable problems arose and, in particular, the disastrous developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina from April 1992 have reduced the chances of succeeding with what was already a highly delicate operation in Croatia.

Weak Aspects of UNPROFOR

Two aspects are much more important than the critical points mentioned above, namely:
a) the problems of implementation of the plan, and
b) the virtual absence of a comprehensive strategy of conflict-resolution.
Thus, we believe that the framework of the plan is more of a problem than the plan itself. In this section we shall deal with the implementation problem.

1. Implementation

Among the problems in UNPROFOR’s implementation could be mentioned:

• Obviously there has been little consistent operative planning or guidelines of implementation in time to be used on the ground developed by New York and the HQ in Sarajevo/Belgrade/Zagreb.
What local UN personnel will tell you is generally that they had to find out “how to do things and tackle problems by intuition and common sense” (or “trial and error”) for lack of guidelines from headquarters in the country or in new York.
Then Civil Affairs Chief in Sector West, Gerard Fischer, writes in a report that “the chronic lack of administrative and financial support at the beginning of the mission, coupled with late arrival of substantive personnel, caused a delay of about three months to the implementation of the mandate.” Three months is a very long time and it is only after that personnel will begin to learn what the mission is all about.
The lack of instructions and sector-specific guidelines also applies to the centrepiece of the operation: demilitarization and withdrawal from the sectors of all troops and personnel.

• Training and briefings are far too short. This is what a high-ranking commander told us, and the story is not unique: “I had not been on a UN mission before when I was called up and asked to come to New York the week after. We had a one-week course with some information about peace-keeping missions, about practical matters and very little time for the situation in Yugoslavia or background to the country’s problems. I just managed to buy a couple of books in a bookstore around the corner before I got on the bus to the airport. And then I went straight to Zagreb where we got another short briefing and became commander here. You’ve got to learn it all yourself.”

• To an extreme extent the success became dependent on individual personalities with commitment, intuition, the ability to organize and quickly acquaint themselves with the social, political, military and cultural environment. Those lacking these qualities basically got in the way.

• Deficient coordination between military, police and civil affairs and only sporadic exchange of experiences among sectors;

• Very counterproductive rotation schemes of UN personnel. In Sector West people came in, learned what had to be learned the hard way, built a unique competence and cooperative structures internally and with local community and launched a few interesting programs —only to leave after twelve months, in the midst of it all and with little or no overlap with their successors. They had to start out from scratch which is a terrible waste of time, resources and experience in an organization desperately in need of funds in a most fragile operation.

• Lack of information to local society about the purpose and operations of UNPROFOR—creating a lot of resistance, suspicion and hardline opposition on both sides.

• Lack of competent personnel—various groups in different sectors having little ability in English, lacking a driving license, having received very little briefing about Yugoslavia and the particular problems in the sectors they were sent to or being virtually without an idea about the nature of a peace-keeping mission; thus if you are an civil police tasked with monitoring a large area you need both a vehicle and the ability to drive it.

• Deficient guidelines—imagine yourself getting into a war-devastated zone where people fear, criminality and certain terror reigns, where you can hardly expect the local Croat or Serb leaders to receive you with open arms and where close to no practical infrastructure is operative (lack of electricity, water, machinery, tools, energy supply, transport, even food). You are supposed to do what must look impossible to any Third Party observer: build enough confidence with all sides and persuade them that laying down arms is better than continuing fighting—and you have hardly received more than a one-week course with general information about peace-keeping and about former Yugoslavia. Examples: how do you carry through, in practical terms, the disarmament of the military, the paramilitaries and the criminal gangs on all sides? What kinds of activities can be initiated to re-create the first little mutual confidence and respect among the parties and start building viable “good circles” in order to facilitate the safe return of displaced persons to their villages? How do you provide building materials and everything else needed to start meaningful activities? How do you help create such trust that the local police “would be formed from residents of the UNPA in question, in proportions reflecting the national composition of the population which lived in it before the recent hostilities” (Vance Plan)? It is not only a rather unclear goal formulation but also without any hint as to how this should be made possible and by whom. How do you provide even the most essential materials (houses, hospital equipment, water pumps etc.) and tools locally in societies which are totally destroyed and cut off physically as well as economically?

• Implementation is also made very difficult when the the budget of the UN and thereby the mission is constantly too small and its mandate is not secured more than a few weeks ahead at a time

• Psychological and social challenges within the mission itself. How do you get to understand the people and the different sides? Who do you turn to? Where exactly is the borderline between formal and informal communication in delicate situations where you must achieve a result? How do you manage to live with fear and with the sometimes very strong emotional experiences? How do you cope with that under very special circumstances where everything is ad hoc and you are far away from those who offer support (family, friends, colleagues)? To what extent can experimentation and risk-taking be justified? How do you create a team feeling with very different personnel coming in with very different experiences—or no PKO experiences—from, let’s say, ten different countries around the world?

• Go-slow and lets-not-rock-the-boat management. Lack of timing, consistency and initiative: the politically tense environment in the sectors and the sensitive situation of mission HQ vis-a-vis governments and international actors is highly conducive to go-slow and lets-not-rock-the-boat management. The TFF mission surprisingly often heard high-ranking officers state something like “because of the extremely tense situation in village A, we have been forced to discontinue activity Y” or “at this very moment the psychology of the people in sector B is of such a nature that we find it too risky to take initiative X” or “you see, we tried C in region Z and we lost the confidence completely with the mayor” or “the Croats (or Serbs) won’t accept this at the moment so we cannot  get it through” or “there are negotiations going on right now at another level and we have to wait what the outcome will be.”

• UNPROFOR’s civil leadership has been very markedly in the defensive peace mode, not the offensive peace mode. The circumstances compels caution; each civil chief and commander at any organizational level senses intuitively that sticking out one’s neck under circumstances like these could be fatal. Warfare requires much dynamic initiative, risk-taking and civil courage. It is as if UNPROFOR’s top-level peace-makers do not believe that peace is also dependent on such qualities.

• Implementation itself should have lead to new initiatives and continuous revision of the mandate. The Vance Plan was the result of a delicate political compromise that one would not like to tear up or renegotiate. But as the situation changes on the ground, the parties should be given an opportunity to discuss changes in the mandate and expansion of tasks as they go along. Urgent matters ought not be left untouched with reference to the fact that “they are not part of the Vance Plan;” neither should lack of clarity or implementation guidelines reduce the chances that the overall, very important, goals of the Vance Plan be achieved.
Disarmament has succeeded only in Sector West and weapons are still in custody after the January 22, 1993 Croatian attack. Unprofor ought to have studied carefully why it succeeded in that sector and learn from the experience. If, for instance, it turned out that the secret was the larger number of highly professional battalions or an exemplary cooperation between the military and the civil affairs on the one hand and systematic confidence-building with local leaders on the other, relevant conclusions should have been drawn for other sectors.
In short, permanent dialogues between the signature parties, or rather the Croatian and local Serb authorities, in the wake of successive implementation ought to have been standard procedure. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and, thus, both the Croatian and the Serbian side can point convincingly to the fact that the Vance Plan has not been realized after more than twelve months.

• A kind of Joint Commission to deal with such matters of the Vance Plan and the UNPAs as such—not only of the Pink Zones—could have served as an important step ahead. If established such a body could open a window of opportunity for dialogues on wider, step-by-step agreed-upon peace-making and peace-building activities between the parties with UNPROFOR playing a dynamic catalyzing role as mediator in a systematic way. It is indeed surprising that such a body was not set up to facilitate a permanent, innovative coordination between parties, sectors, issues and elements of peace-keeping, -making and -building.

• Thus, there seems to have been little opportunity for systematically accumulating learning experience from successes as well as failures and revise operations accordingly.

2. Partiality

The UN civil policemen (Uncivpol), civil affairs officers as well as military observers the TFF delegation met with gave us a clear impression that there is a widespread understanding of one of the most essential working principles of a successful United Nations involvement in a conflict, namely the strict observance of total impartiality or committed neutrality.

This does not mean that they refrain from explicitly pointing out that party A violated a ceasefire or a law in one case and party B the local agreement from yesterday or that party C looted the a number of houses last night in village X. This is exactly what they should do: find facts, investigate, point out, report, follow up. They are the eyes and ears and therefore the people who know, in contrast to someone sitting in Zagreb, Geneva or New York.

Our mission systematically asked whether, generally, these eyes and ears could see a marked, systematic difference in the propensity to violate laws and agreements or by their act oppose the realization of the Vance Plan. We hardly encountered a single UN official who, having observed the activities of both or all parties over time and in the field, could state that one of the sides had a markedly or systematically worse record than the other.

We also studied carefully the grievances mentioned in the Joint Committee which deals with the Pink Zones.

There is no systematic pointing out of only one side; the Croatian army has repeatedly violated ceasefires and the Serb side, particularly in Sector South but also in Sector East, has continued to change uniforms on various military troops calling them “special police” or “special border guards” or whatever. And in no case known to Unprofor in Sector East had there been a successful prosecution where the victim was a non-Serb. Uncivpol could tell us that in the villages, Serbs as well as Croats stood for crimes, looting, robbery, theft, threats, , intimidation, violence and killing on an almost 50/50 basis, over time. Likewise, in a weekly press briefing of November 26, 1992 it is stated about the Joint Committee that “it has to be said that there was a lack of political will and flexibility on both sides, leading to a dangerous impasse in regard to the situation in the Pink Zones.”

In almost total contrast to this general judgement from personnel in the field it is striking to read the following summarizing statement by the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his report (S/24848) of November 24, 1992, para 45:
“Although the Croatian authorities have from time to time raised tension in the UNPA’s and the “pink zones” by injudicious public statements and provocative military moves, it has to be stated clearly that responsibility for non-implementation of the peace-keeping plan approved by the Security Council rests squarely with the Knin authorities. It is they who have abused the law and order powers entrusted to the local authorities by the plan and, instead, created or perpetuated conditions of lawlessness and disorder. It is they who have exploited the presence of UNPROFOR and the resulting cessation of hostilities to assert their pretensions to sovereignty and statehood, instead of cooperating with UNPROFOR to create conditions in which a  negotiated accomodation of their legitimate concerns could be achieved. It is they who have refused to withdraw their forces from the “pink zones” and have blocked the full implementation of resolution 762 (1992) by pursuing the aim of consolidating the status quo in those areas rather that facilitating the orderly restoration of Croatian authority there.” (p. 15).

This can be related to another statement earlier in the same report, para 12:

“Promises have been given by presidents Cosic and Milosevic, and by Prime Minister Panic, to use all their influence and authority to secure this demilitarization. But at the same time they have said that they exert no effective control over the Serb local authorities in the UNPAs. For their part, my representatives have insisted that the Security Council continue to hold the Belgrade authorities responsible for the implementation of the peace-keeping plan, to which they have earlier agreed. It seems evident that the Belgrade authorities could, if they so chose, take measures which would have a strongly persuasive effect upon the Serb local authorities, especially in the view of the considerable economic dependence of much for the UNPAs upon the FRY.” (p. 3)

These very clear statements raise a number of vital points:

A. How can the local Serb authorities in Croatia be pointed out by the Secretary-General as the one party responsible for the non-implementation of the plan—in complete contrast to what is the overall perception of UN personnel on the ground? Have there been “gatekeepers” in the UN organization placed somewhere between the UN fact-finders on the ground and the HQ in New York whose task it was – or who felt their task to be – to present a particularly one-sided picture? Or has the Secretary-General been under political pressure to depict the situation in this peculiar manner to fit the international community’s strategy to put blame on Serbs and Serbia only?

B. What should have motivated the local Krajina Serbs to behave much differently when the entire issue of Croatia/UNPA/Krajina was not specifically addressed in the Geneva International Conference on Former Yugoslavia and, to the degree that it was under the “minority” heading, they were not part of it?

C. Can the UN top executive disclaim all co-responsibility for the lack of success in implementing the Vance Plan—for instance the less than effective guidance of the Joint Committee and the lack of effective demilitarization in Sectors South and East?
D. Is it compatible with the principle of impartiality the United Nations to take sides or do it in such very explicit terms?
E. If so, does it increase or decrease the chances that the UN can perform effectively in the role as peacekeeper, peacemaker and peacebuilder through trustful relations to all sides?

F. Why are the local Krajina Serbs pointed out as those solely responsible in one paragraph when the Secretary-General, in another, insists on holding Belgrade responsible for the (non)-implementation of the plan? It is true that it signed the agreement but even in formal terms this is a doubtful assumption; when the UN was invited to come, Yugoslavia existed in the sense that neither Slovenia nor Croatia were recognized by the international society. Only after January 15 were they recognized as independent states; and Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) are still not recognized.

On January 22, the Croatian Army mounted an attack on the Maslenica Bridge, Zemunik Airport and Peruga Dam and surrounding areas violating all previous agreements pertaining to UNPAs and Pink Zones. The response of the Security Council was relatively strongly formulated (Res 802, Jan 25, 1993). A similar incursion by the Federal Army or RSK forces into an UNPA would probably have caused concrete countermeasures.

The TFF mission was in the Knin area up till the 18th and were well-informed by the UN in the sector that something was coming up. Therefore, it was quite surprising to hear UN spokespersons in Zagreb argue that it came as a surprise; it was no surprise to anyone in the sector. Thinking of the need for impartiality among parties it was similarly surprising for the team to listen to Lord Owen, on BBC, expressing his “sympathy with the frustrations of Dr. Tudjman,” as it were, without of course endorsing the offensive. The international mediators were in Zagreb in the days preceding the incursion.

3. “Pink Zones” and the Joint Commission

An UNPROFOR Public Information paper states that ” ‘Pink zones’ are areas that have been controlled by the JNA and where the population is largely Serb, but are outside the United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs). They lie between certain boundaries of the UNPAs and the ceasefire lines.” They relate to the UN Security Council Resolution 762.

What became apparent was that there was a grave risk that hostilities would break out in the PZs once the JNA withdrew and the Croatian authorities took control. This threatened peace not only in the pink zones but also in the UNPAs. Pink Zones were established in the areas of Plaski, Sas and Trabinje (Sector North) and in Vrlika, Drnis, Bratiskovci, Stankovci, Medak, Liki Osik, Zalusnica, Smokovic (Sector South), but not in Sector West or East.

A Joint Commission consisting of representatives of Unprofor, the Croatian government, Krajina Serbs and EC military monitors (ECMM) was set up by the UN Security Council to restore the authority of the Croatian government in the Pink Zones in a way that should avoid any further fighting and ensure the safety of people living there. The commission started its work in July 1992.
UNPROFOR’s mandate in these zones were, i.a. to monitor and verify the withdrawal from the zones of the Croatian Army as well as JNA units, patrolling and monitoring that the Croatian army withdrew back from the confrontation lines, expand Civpol and its monitoring function of local police into the zones, establish EC monitoring outside the UNPAs and establish general amnesty before Croatian authority was reinstated.

The Serbian side decided not to participate in the Commission’s second meeting, with reference to activities by the Croatian government allegedly in breach of the cease-fire and other provisions of Security Council resolution 762. At the third meeting, in August, three sub-groups were set up; one dealing with cease-fire violations and security matters, one with legal aspects and one with various economic and humanitarian facilities of mutual interest. A fourth sub-commission on refugees and dispplaced persons was later established. The last focussed its work on the reconstruction of the Maslenica Bridge, the future of the Zemunik Airport, the provision of power from the Peruca Dam to Knin, the Zagreb-Belgrade highway and various aspects of communications and economic activity. In September UNPROFOR assumed control of the Peruca Dam.

The PZ reflects a general problem with delimitations of the UNPAs. The Vance Plan had stated only cursorily that “the exact boundaries of the UNPAs would be decided by an advance party of the United Nations Force, after consulting local leaders.” If the UNPAs were predominantly Serbian-populated—all of them—how come that there were so many smaller areas which were also “largely Serb” and why was that problem restricted only to two of the four sectors?

There does not seem to exist a clear-cut answer to this question. The mission met several people, local as well as from the UN, who either gave widely differing definitions of PZ or did not quite seem to know what it was—except that they were particularly troublesome areas of tension.

Studying the press statements from the Joint Commission’s (JC) meetings, it becomes obvious that a great opportunity for conflict-resolution was lost. The JC was the only direct contact between the most polarized parties, set up to deal with some rather concrete matters. The JC meetings obviously did not function as trust-building measures but seems to have been a place where the parties accused each other of lacking good will and violating various agreements. On the one hand the monitors report cease-fire violations mainly on the Croatian side and that the irregular Serb special militia forces carry out gross violations of the Vance Plan.

Rather than pressing the parties to behave themselves and see the mutual benefits of living up to the plan, the Unprofor delegates and the JC chairman, Mr. Cedric Thornberry seems to have come close to taking sides and simply reprimanding them, increasingly disillusioned by hearing “the same sad story” and telling the parties that this was not what the Security Council members had expected. UNPROFOR had a special meeting with the Serb authorities on November 2 but “failed to resolve fundamental problems.” The Chairman simply seems to express his dissatisfation rather than pushing negotiations ahead with an agenda and a strategy for mediation.

After eight meetings some, perhaps all, JC members are suddenly said to have “supported the idea that there should be a suspension of Commission meetings to allow all concerned to consider the situation fully.” From where did this proposal come? How was it possible when we remember that the Joint Committee was established by the Security Council?

The TFF mission have met members of the commission on both sides and there is no doubt that both had elected representatives who were not the most likely to strike a deal with the other side. However difficult, the lack of a solid conflict mitigation leadership by UNPROFOR, driven through with toughness in this body, is a deplorable fact and it is hardly reasonable to blame only the conflicting parties for this mediation failure.

After all the JC was the only place where Krajina Serbs and Croatian government representatives met while the UN kept the peace. It was a more striking failure since it basically was not tasked with high politics but should deal with down-to-earth practical matters.

4. Irrelevant Criticism

It deserves mention that a number of entirely irrelevant criticisms have been aired in the international debate, for instance that UNPROFOR:
A) is weak because it does not enter the conflict;
B) is weak because it does not militarily enforce or follow-up when having evidence of breaches of cease-fires or violations of human rights;
C) ought to take a clear stand among parties;
D) should not be multinational because some personnel from Third World countries are less professional than those from Europe;
E) consists of far too many people who are criminals, black market dealers or otherwise corrupted, drunkards or weapons smugglers.
Such points are raised by those who do not understand UN PKOs in general nor UNPROFOR’s mandate in particular.

In response to point A-D) it must be stated very clearly that threatening with or actually using weapons can never compensate for bigger or smaller failures in peace-keeping.

Journalists who have made a big deal of point E) should be asked to make comparative analyses of other multinational operations working under extreme stress – sometimes taking considerable personal risks – and with permanent cultural and human shocks. The TFF missions’ general observations can not confirm this negative image.

Strong Aspects of UNPROFOR

The strongest single resource of the United Nations is its idea and its people.

To put it in short and generalizing terms: the people are so much more impressive than the organization. And those who get things done in the field are more impressive than those who administer them.

1. The people

On the basis of our missions to Sector South, repeatedly to Sector West and to the HQ in Zagreb, TFFs mission feels like emphasizing the following observations:

• The UNPROFOR personnel we met with in the sectors showed a very high level of understanding of and commitment to the mission.

• It should be understood that Uncivpol is the only real communal security and order apparatus although they cannot enforce anything. The citizens in the sectors, whether Croats or Serbs, generally don’t trust their own authorities and certainly not those of the other nationality. The UN police man who patrols the countryside and villages and monitors social and criminal issues is a “Bobby”-like figure whom they know they can trust.

• A very substantial part of the social, psychological and humanitarian care is carried out by Uncivpol. Thus, there is the old man who needs to be taken to the hospital. There is the family who has lost a son and needs support. There is the little old lady living alone in a devastated village who cannot be moved, she is having her fire chopped and food and wine brought twice a week. There is the family whose house was looted last night and who has a proper report made. There is a group of refugee youngsters who have been jailed without trial and exploited as unpaid labour who have managed to flee but needs protection. There are those dead bodies in a mass grave that needs to be identified, some handed over to the other side and the rest given a proper burial. There is the drunken soldiers New Years evening who starts demolishing one house after the other along the main street of the village who need to be calmed down. There are food parcels to be distributed. There is the need for maintaining public order vis-a-vis a lynch mob. And there is the family who comes to the local police station and needs someone they can safely talk to about the identity paper they lost when fleeing, the human rights violation they have witnessed or the theft and looting they have been victimized by.

TFF’s team was given several opportunities to see how this work is carried out. There is not the slightest doubt in our minds that this down-to-earth practical humanitarian assistance and human concern is one of the most important but forgotten ingredients of this mission. It is done in a spirit of civil courage, empathy and humanity. Traveling with them to the countryside and observing the way they were received by the local citizens while Croatian and Serbian bullets flew over our heads were deeply moving experiences. It is there the UN can achieve something no one else can – as part of a much larger reconciliation and peace-building effort.

• The men and women we met worked hard from 7 to late in the evening including Saturdays and Sundays and they gave the impression of working as if world peace rested on their shoulders. If all other organizations involved in conflicts – political parties, ministries, media etc – worked with as much care, the world and former Yugoslavia would be a better place.

• Many of those we met were better informed and politically conscious than politicians and experts in Zagreb (UNPROFOR and Croats) or Knin.

• Impartiality between the parties coupled with strong advocacy of non-violence and dialogue, even when taking a risk themselves, are other moving qualities our delegation had the privilege to experience.

It is obvious that missions like these cannot operate efficiently by only following rules and general procedures. Most problems, small and big, must be approached with good judgement, locally and by means of independent thinking, also in relation to HQs. The majority of those we met at different organizational levels possessed such good human common sense.

• Our team experienced how many individuals in the sectors took a personal interest in the local problems, in Yugoslavia, in the people and the culture. They empathize with people, with the human and social dimensions. Those involved in solving the problems in e.g. Zagreb, Belgrade or Geneva tend more to see the legal and political issues and to see human groups as units to be combined, fit, pressured into grand schemes.

• This is also a distinguishing difference between men and women we met in Unprofor: women tend to understand much better the human dimensions—how so much in this conflict has to do with psychological barriers, traumas, fear, distrust and accumulated effects over generations in the local communities.

2. Non-violence and dialogue

Anyone watching TV from Croatia 1991-92 will probably find it difficult to understand how anything can be achieved through the deliberate use of non-violence. And as we all know, the call for military “teeth” and “peace enforcement” has become increasingly fashionable, however misguided and potentially suicidal for the world organization.

Peace-keeping requires agreement on a cease-fire and its modalities. The next step is to monitor the cease-fire, disarm the parties, demilitarize society and sow the first seeds of trust in order to start a process in which civilian, political and other non-violent means can take priority.

UN peace-keeping in Croatia has been almost exclusively non-violent. Soldiers are armed only for self-defence, civil police and civil staff are unarmed. At their disposal is armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and helicopters. Demilitarization of all parties is an absolute precondition for succeeding with peace-keeping, not to speak of peace-making and -building. The single largest problem for UNPROFOR in Croatia is that this has only taken place in Western Slavonia.

How did it take place?

Initial meetings were arranged by the Sector Commander, the Civil Affairs Chief and others on the one hand and local representatives of the Croatian Army, the Federal Army (JNA) and the Territorial Defence Force (TDF). The purpose and procedure of demilitarization were explained, trust built between UNPROFOR and them and between the Croat and Serbian officers. Agreement was reached after a series of meetings; the Sector HQ gathered intelligence relating to strength of troops and weapons, their location and movements within the sector. Actual demilitarization including withdrawal behind three lines around the sector was completed within three weeks.

It was emphasized to both sides that Unprofor would not hesitate to use its military force should the armies not adhere to the negotiated agreement.

In parallel with this, the process of demobilizing and disbanding the territorial defence forces (TDF) was carried out. Meeting were held with their commanders in the sector and it was made clear that the wearing of uniforms (other than members of the milicija) would not be tolerated; neither would UNPROFOR allow arms being carried by citizens. Only milicija members, when on duty, could carry pistols (short arms).

At an agreed upon date, TDF members handed in their weapons to the Federal Army for being taken outside the sector or jointly stored by UNPROFOR and the TDF in the sector. Some resistance was registered, but after a grace period of ten days UNPROFOR enforced the agreement and confiscated weapons, uniforms and other gear at sight. All components of UNPROFOR took part in this phase. The general public and local authorities respected the determination of all UNPROFOR people stopping anyone anywhere who carried arms illegally and seizing them.

Why did the weak actor, UNPROFOR, succeed in disarming peacefully and without incidents two well-armed opposing partners?

There seems to be the following explanatory factors behind the success in Sector West:

• detailed preparations and planning and trust-building from the outset with all military parties simultaneously;
• systematic information to the general public so that it would be understood why Unprofor relentlessly would seek illegal arms, thereby creating support and building trust with ordinary citizens who are dead tired of living in fear day and night and wanted demilitarization more than anybody else;
• the Sector Commander’s and Civil Affairs Chief’s impartial determination and a no-nonsense attitude; goals and procedures were clearly communicated to all parties well in advance;
• the emphasis on demilitarization as an increase in security for all: Unprofor would provide both sides and their respective populations greater security than each could realistically guarantee their own populations. Without demilitarization, the risk of renewed warfare would be much higher;
• invitation to local authorities to participate in implementation and carry out inspection of private and public buildings;
• the emphasis on demilitarization as a window of opportunity for future: with it trust could unfold, tension would be reduced, social life would progress towards normalization; demilitarization would open the possibility that local problems (the restoration of roads, water and electricity supply etc.) could be solved through negotiations;
• local Croat and Serb leaders were made to understand that attempts to repatriate displaced persons would only be possible if the sector was calm;
• a political settlement and socio-economic reconstruction would be possible also only in case both parties gave up violent means, stored the weapons and met on equal footing.
• the fact that everything was done openly, with both parties at the same time, in fairness and with an understanding of their problems (military officers do not readily give up the pride in their weapons and their potential) contributed to building the trust needed in the first place.

A considerable part of all weapons were actually found at the local police headquarters and in the homes of individual policemen.

In short, the method built on a strategy and planned implementation, on determination, participation and trust-building and on systematically convincing all actors that they would gain something from laying down the arms and engage in problem-solving. This became very popular with civilians everywhere. It was the first time anywhere in former Yugoslavia that anyone took an intiative in the direction of peace-making and peace-building and thereby help all sides to recognize that peace is more attractive than continued warfare.

This is where opportunities unfold and where human and social potentials can be realized. This is where peace can develop from below – while somebody else in Geneva creates peace from above.

And this is where non-violence is indisputably superior to violence. The TFF team finds that this experience, however small and local, is of major importance for all peace-keeping and conflict-mitigation and holds important promises for other sectors in Croatia, for Bosnia-Herzegovina and for other UN operations around the world.

It is also by far the best argument in response to those who believe that the UN needs military “teeth.” We would argue rather that people with intelligence and vision, a theory and practice of non-violence are much more needed.

As will be seen, it belongs to one of the saddest experiences of our mission’s analysis that these attempts at combined peace-keeping, peace-making and peace-building in Sector West came to nothing. The reasons are many and will be dealt with in other chapters.

3. The potentials of the UN

If anyone could start solid reconciliation, peace-making and peace-building processes and help them gain momentum, it would be UNPROFOR’s personnel. That requires a very different use of the organization’s potential, another dynamic “peace pushing” attitude in its leadership, a conscious strategy for implementing integrated policies of peace-keeping, peace-making and peace-building and, finally, a much larger UN budget and a qualitatively different PKO organization.

The TFF feels that it is extremely unfair when international columnists and politicians – often not too well-versed in the art of conflict-resolution themselves – in sweeping words maintain that the UN is a failure in Yugoslavia. This one-sided judgment have usually not been based on analyses or even visits to Croatia, but they are accompanied by proposals to give the organization more teeth, i.e. military enforcement power a la Operation Desert Storm or Somalia. That this is in total contravention with the highest purpose of the UN Charter is conveniently forgotten.

It is worth remembering that the first sentence in the United Nations Charter states that “we the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…” and that Article 1 states as the first purpose of the UN “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace…and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of peace.” (our italics).

It is almost as if one might suspect that there is a post Cold War “Realist” conspiracy working on something like: “First, give the UN as little resources as possible. Next, create a real mess here and there and ask the UN to step in and solve all the impossible problems in several hot spots simultaneously. Finally, criticize the blue helmets for being blue-eyed and incompetent. This will either lead to a cry for “Send the Marines!” (NATO, international coalitions, CSCE/West-European Union forces or combinations thereof) and then we have saved institutions otherwise looking in vain for a mission after the Cold War or to the militarization of the UN itself, or both.”

Truth is that the world organization is vastly overloaded and that all 13 UN peacekeeping operations around the world in 1992 cost only roughy 3 $ billion – to be compared with a combined world war-keeping defence budget of well beyond 1000 $ billion. The UN employed only 53.000 blue helmets – to be compared with the fact that the five permanent Security Council members alone have around 10 million under arms and cover 80% of all arms exports.

Obviously the mandate in Croatia has not been implemented successfully. It is not only a matter of finance or force and personnel levels. But it is difficult to deny that it could have succeeded if there had been: a) more battalions particularly in Sector South and Sector East, b) several times more and far better educated, specially trained and briefed Uncivpol and Civil Affairs personnel, c) better access to communication, vehicles, transport and much needed infrastructure, d) better administrative and financial support from Zagreb and New York, and e) a far more efficient operations planning and implementation guidance. None of this could be accomplished without better funding.

It is paradoxical to the observer that the UN generally seems to cash in one bad judgement after the other without really telling the culprits—the member states which after almost fifty year still pay far too little money and genuine political attention to it—that they, not the UN, have failed in former Yugoslavia.

As long as each member state and every citizen accepts that (outmoded) national defence budgets used for peacetime security but also for warfare costs 1000 $ while peaceful conflict-resolution costs 3 $ there is no chance that the UN will succeed in creating peace with peaceful means.

In summary, there is a good story too to be told about the United Nations in Croatia.

The UN is often asked to step in and restore order where all other actors have either messed everything up or given up creating any order. This is certainly very true for former Yugoslavia, a conflict that has drawn in basically all major actors in the Western world.
The attacks on the UN reflects a tendency, rather, within our civilization to criticize systematically what is not forceful, military-backed and visibly appeals to heroism but works a bit more outside the limelight and does something important predominantly by means of nonviolence. That is what makes the organization so impressive and unique in spite of all failures and the present misguided, we think, flirtation with military enforcement activities.

But these aspects, the down-to-earth struggle for normalization, peace and humanity, are not chic, slick and photogenic—they are nothing for CNN to shoot in comparison with the US bombing Iraq or the US marine landing on the shores of Muqdishu.

Extremely few media bothered about the UN operations in Croatia during one year of peacekeeping. But they flocked to Knin the moment Croatian forces put the issue on the front pages again, in Janaury 1993.

Why does peacekeeping and peace negotiations not make a story? Until it does, the UN should, rather, be applauded for its uphill – indeed Sisyphean – work. And perhaps spend a little more on telling the world?

Resolution 802 and 815—Everything relates to everything else

The Vance Plan had stated clearly that the arrangements in the UNPAs “would be of an interim nature and would not prejudge the outcome of political negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Yugoslav crisis.” Two major problems must be dealt with in this respect, namely
a) the role of the Krajina Serbs in the international negotiations and
b) the subsequent decision-making by the UN Security Council concerning the status of Krajina.

a) When the TFF mission visited Knin in January 1993 it was told by leaders of the RSK – Republika Srpska Krajina – that Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen had visited Knin once. The negotiations they had been invited to in Geneva took place in the Working Group on Ethnic and National Communities and Minorities.” They were considered a “minority” and not a equal, legitimate party to the conflict(s) in former Yugoslavia or as a “nationality.” This was obviously offending to their pride, identity and their situation, as they saw it. Furthermore, whenever the Republika Srpska Krajina is referred to in UN document there are quotation marks around designations, names and titles of RSK representives.

In contrast, the way the Krajina leadership seems to see it is the following:

The Vance Plan was signed before Croatia was recognized internationally as an independent republic. Croatia cannot reasonably claim that UNPROFOR occupies 25-30% of Croatia’s territory. The international mistake consisted in recognizing Croatia within borders which automatically tied Serbs to live under Croatian authority. The Krajina Serbs, through earlier referendum and political organization – Krajina was declared autonomous province on December 21, 1990 – had clearly indicated that they preferred self-determination.

The Vance Plan is implemented in areas with historical Serbian domination. This is disputed by nobody, although demographic statistics vary depending on which party one asks. Therefore, the interests of the Serbs – as a constituent people under the old Socialist Federal Yugoslav constitution – are as vital and legally important as those of the Croats.

This, they say, has not been recognized by Croatia, by the mediators, by the ICFY or by the international community. The way they have been treated internationally is, therefore, deeply humiliating.

One of the Krajina leaders emphasized to us that co-chairman Cyrus Vance, during his and Lord Owen’s visit to Knin in November 1992, expressed an understanding of the centrality of their points made, as well as their reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of December 16, 1966 (UN General Assembly Res. 2200) which states in Article 1 that “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Furthermore, its article 27 states that “in those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

In contrast, the RSK representative told our mission, Lord Owen turned down this argument, refused to take serious RSK documents offering evidence that more than 200 Serb police had lost their lives and that there had been 1420 Croatian violations of cease-fire agreements – reported also to UNPROFOR – and instead “gave us a lecture to the effect that Krajina indisputably belonged to Croatia and that he spoke on behalf of the international community.”

It is certainly true that the status and definition of minorities is a contested issue in international law. So is the call for self-determination which originally was given prominence in relation to the de-colonization process. True is also that the Krajina Serbs have displayed considerable lack of diplomatic professionalism, negotiation skills and reliability during the cause of events.

But what has been said so far is that irrespective of that, the Krajina Serbs seem to have a strong case when they argue that they were somehow not respected as central players until January 1993, that their arguments were not listened carefully to, if at all, and that the international negotiation machinery for reasons unknown does not seem to have been geared to the problems of Croatia.

They felt that the structure and themes of the ICFY Working Groups did not reflect the relative importance of the UNPA/Croatia/RSK conflict complex. Having gone through a large amount of materials, the TFF mission also understands that the Krajina Serbs must have felt strongly that the UN was not impartial in its handling of the parties and reporting to the Security Council via the Secretary-General.

In short, simple psychological-diplomatic mechanisms were somehow ignored. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the international community’s handling of this conflict and the organization of the negotiations of it to a considerable extent reflected the overall side-taking of the international community at the expence of sound mediation and impartiality principles.

b) As is well-known the Croatian Army mounted an attack on UNPA South in January 22, 1993. Whatever the motives, there are reasons to believe that the international community was given prior notice and by and large chose to connive at the incursion. The act was strongly condemned by the Security Council (Res. 802) and derailed every reconciliation opportunity at the time. Weapons were taken out of the UNPA storage facilities in all sectors, except in Sector West where UNPROFOR succeeded after some 12 hours of negotiations to convince the Croatian and Serbian sides that they both gained in effective security by leaving it to UNPROFOR rather than resuming armed activity.

Resolution 802 demanded that the Croatian forces be withdrawn immediately from the UNPA, that heavy weapons be returned to UNPROFOR-controlled storage and that both sides cooperate fully in implementing the Vance Plan, including the disbanding and demobilization of Serb Territorial Defence units or other units with similar function.

The implementation of this was agreed and signed by the Croatian government and the RSK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Lord Owen on April 6, 1993. It stipulated a Croatian withdrawal to the lines of confrontation before the hostilities and that no armed Serb forces could move in where Croat forces moved out. Further, a declaration added by the UN Secretary-General to the implementation agreement stated that UNPROFOR would strengthen its forces in the disputed areas and that none of the parties would station police forces there; instead Uncivpol “shall, in the interim period until agreement has been reached in the talks called for by paragraph 5 of that Agreement, exclusively fulfil all police functions in those area.” (In paragraph 5 the parties agreed to start talks in implementing the other provisions of the Vance Plan and all preceding Security Council Resolution, including 762 which had urged the Croatian Army to withdraw to the positions before the offensive of 21 June 1992 and the Serbs and JNA to comply with the provisions of the Vance Plan and recommended that a Joint Commission concerning Pink Zones be established).

This was April 6, 1993 and the agreement referred to the Vance Plan which, as mentioned above, had explicitly stated it did “not prejudge the outcome of political negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Yugoslav crisis.”

As an example of how badly coordinated the international community has been in terms of conflict-resolution it must be pointed out that on March 29, 1993 the UN Security Council had, on the initiative of the United States, passed Resolution 815 which, inter alia, “supposes (supports?, TFF) the Co-Chairmen of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia in their efforts to help to define the future status of these territories, comprising the United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs), which are integral parts of the territory of the Republic of Croatia…”

Resolution 815 indeed prejudges what was supposed to be the result of the stipulated political negotiations in Geneva. That the Krajina Serbs find it totally unacceptable in terms of substance as well as procedure is predictable. If instead the Security Council had stated that Krajina was an independent republic the same prejudgment would be equally evident and the protest of the Croatian side equally predictable.

Professional conflict-resolution method based on just a grain of empathy and political psychology would have compelled the international to abstain from such prejudgment.

It helped hard-line Serbs who were against negotiations and dialogue – “what is there to discuss if the UN which is also UNPROFOR has already decided our fate without our participation?” they could well say. It convinced all Serbs that the “world is simply once again ganging up against us.” Consequently it made the platform for moderate Serbs in general and moderate, dialogue-oriented Serbs in Krajina even smaller. It confirmed that Croatia was strongly favoured by the international community, not the least since the resolution was passed only two months after the”strongly condemned” January 22 attack on the UNPA and even a few days before the implementation agreement was signed.

Indeed, from the Knin horizon it could not but look like rewarding Croatia for its violation of international law and the Vance Plan.
This may be “Realpolitik,” but it is certainly not a viable policy for conflict-resolution or a recipe for future peaceful coexistence.

From then on all negotiation initiatives have failed. Under the leadership of Deputy Chief of Mission, Cedric Thornberry, UNPROFOR facilitated a meeting between Croatia and the RSK in Topusko in May and on the 26th a cease-fire agreement should have been signed. The RSK however did not turn up, referred to ungoing killing of Serbs in the UNPAs and announced instead that a referendum would be held to decide whether or not to integrate Krajina with the Serb Republic in Bosnia (and other Serbian lands).  Not unexpectedly it confirmed an overwhelming majority in favour of leaving Croatia.

Very understandably, the referendum was perceived by Zagreb as an extreme provocation. If its result were implemented in reality it would undoubtedly lead to the departure of UNPROFOR and a resumption of war in Croatia.

However, judged from a series of statements coming out of Knin it looks more like the referendum was a political manifestation, a cry for international attention and respect. The Krajina Serbs have never really made it to the limelight anywhere, and 120 international journalists and CNN cameramen flocking to Knin served as a much needed reminder to the international community that the Krajina Serbs were also part of the Yugoslav conflict and human rights map.

As they saw it, the negotiations in Geneva on BiH could well decide their fate and future without their presence. They could trust neither that president Milosevic’s nor president Tudjman’s proposals would pay respect to their needs and political visions. A package deal on BiH brokered by Lord Owen could seal off the borders with Bosnia and close the corridor which is Krajina’s umbilical cord as long as relations with Croatia proper are non-existent. Finally, there were rumours that both Croatia and Serbia could think of swopping lands to settle things between them in Croatia.

Croatia’s and Krajina’s delegation met in Geneva on July 7-8, 1993 to discuss normalization. No breakthrough was attained. Representatives of RSK afterwards issued quite confusing statements. Its president Goran Hadzic told the Zagreb weekly “Globus” (Tanjug, July 8) that “the only peaceful option was international recognition of the ‘Independent State of Serb Krajina’ which may form a confederation with other countries. Otherwise, the solution is large-scale war.”

He referred to the existence of the Vance Plan: “If the Vance Plan falls through, the referendum has shown which path the Krajina Serbs should take” and adds that unification should take place “but not at all costs.” If the unification were to cause a major war at this moment, it would be madness to proceed with it. Interestingly he goes on saying also that “the national basis does not have to be the priority…borders should only be a formality.”

Obviously president Hadzic’s position is conditional, it leaves a space for manoeuvre. RSK minister of foreign affairs, S. Jarcevic, however simultaneously announces that “the RSK views as unacceptable the draft agreement on implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 802 on a ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities with Croatia because the proposed agreement does not acknowledge the fact that the RSK has existed for three years.” He is quoted by Tanjug as saying that “the offered draft agreement reflected the time when the Plan of Vance was adopted and was thereby contrary to the actual situation at this point.” (Tanjug July 8)

He further demands that Croatia and the RSK be treated as equals, that earlier documents be treated as nul and void because they don’t and that the RSK is “ready to agree to the deployment of UNPROFOR troops on (the) condition that the RSK police and administration returned to the areas from which Croatia’s forces are to withdreaw.”

The situation is highly impenetrable and indeed confusing for any outside observer and probably for quite some of the negotiators and delegates. Thus, the Security Council rewards Croatia once month after its attack on the UNPA with Resolution 815 which delivers judgment on the fundamental issue left open for a negotiated settlement in the Vance plan (Resolution 743) namely the future status of the Krajina territory.

Mr. Jarcevic signs an agreement on April 6, a week after this Resolution was passed. President Hadzic states that the RSK must be recognized as an independent republic – which is also in contravention to the Vance Plan since that is what shall be discussed – but accepts the continued existence of the Vance Plan. However, his foreign minister argues clearly that the agreement he signed (and earlier documents) are unacceptable because the were based on the existence of the Vance Plan and ignored the de facto existence of the RSK.

In this chaos all actors jump to conclusions, state autistically their own position without consideration for their consequences. The Security Council in particular decides issues that make negotiations in Geneva quite meaningless and fuels only a non-compromising attitude with the Krajina Serbs who, on their part, display disunity and lack professionalism. They all make the capital mistake to transform what is their desired outcome of a negotiated political settlement the precondition of their participation.

In line with this, president Tudjman had already stated the Croatian position on July 5: “Croatia supports the normalization of relations with the ethnic Serbs in Croatia provided that they recognise Croatian authority and that the Croatian constitutional and legal order be established on the entire territory.” (Hina Bulletin 965). He, on his side, says that the UN Resolution is expressive of the fact that the Security Council “had taken into account Croatia’s demand as stated in the President’s letter, supported the territorial integrity of Croatia and warned the Serb leaders in Knin and Belgrade to give serious consideration to their future action.” And he elaborates on it with a threat, namely that “If they continue opposing the solution of the vital traffic and economic issues, Croatia will have to reconsider its position. In any case, Croatia will not agree to the extension of the UNPROFOR mandate if the Vance Plan is not implemented.” (Hina Bulletin 965).

In summary, each actor presents position as solutions, none offering a fresh new proposal or idea. No one seems to know what the underlying issue is. Too many cooks spoil the broth, even for each other. And each actor is systematically inconsistent over time. Finally, in most of the statements there is an explicit or implicit threat: “if we don’t get it our way, then…”

The substantive problems in Croatia are difficult and tense enough in and of themselves to cause war as we have already witnessed. On top of that they are handled by actors, from New York over Geneva to Knin and Zagreb, in such (conflict illiterate) ways that one would seem justified in fearing that only miracles could save Croatia from yet another devastating war. Not only conflict can end in war. So do easily amateurish conflict-resolution strategies.

Keeping, making and building peace

The mandate given by the Security Council to the UN through the Vance Plan was peace-keeping, not peace-making and peace-building plan. Peace-making encompasses activities such as contacts, providing good offices, setting up meetings, conducting negotiations. It was assumed that that would be taken care of in the international negotiations which at the time were handled by Cyrus R. Vance and EC envoy and former NATO secretary-general and UK minister of foreign affairs, Lord Carrington (who later resigned and was replaced by Lord Owen)

Peacebuilding focuses on the root causes of the conflict and on underlying structures with a view to changing them in order so that future violence can be prevented. The return of refugees and reconciliation throughout the villages can be interpreted as a “status quo ante” peace-building goal—and indeed mentioned in the Vance Plan. However, with the exception of Sector West during a short period this has proven impossible because local peace-making—”peace from below”—has not taken place and was not part of the plan.

With a few exceptions there have been few opportunities and fewer initiatives or attempts at peace-making and peace-building in the UNPAs. As part of the peacekeeping effort, de-militarization of long/larger weapons was supposed to take place but has been successful only in Sector West. Weapons have been stored in depots under UNPROFOR control, but it is practically impossible to take away all weapons from all citizens. A police station may be surrounded by 15 Armoured Personnel Carriers and the policemen will surrender their weapons, but they are also likely to have sizeable quantitites stored elsewhere including in their homes. Smaller hand-weapons are believed to exist in a good many homes throughout Yugoslavia. What the de-militarization can do is to take over all larger weapons and store them safely and get all smaller weapons away from the streets in the villages.

This is of course only true to some extent. When Croat forces set in motion their military activity around the Maslenica bridge, the Zemunik Airport and the Peruca Dam in late January 1993, the Serbian side immediately made their way to the UN depots and regained control over major weapons stored there. The UN could do nothing to prevent that, at least not with the forces at its disposal and the forces involved on both sides.

Although there has been peacekeeping for about one year little, if anything, has been achieved in terms of peacemaking, i.e. negotiations, trust-building etc. between the parties. The Joint Committee established between the Serb leaders in Knin and Zagreb government officials were discontinued in November 1992 while two of its subgroups continue to meet on an irregular basis. There are basically no contacts between Croats and Serbs at the official levels, except when representatives of the Serbian or Federal Yugoslavian governments meet with president Franjo Tudjman. There is also very scanty, limited peace-making efforts within the Serbian community.

Regrettably, the Croatian government has not deemed it necessary to establish, during the period of UNPROFOR presence, any kind of framework or process which could lead to national reconciliation within Croatia. In this sense it treats the Krajina issue in just the same way as the Serbian Republic treats the Kosovo issue: no initiatives is taken to utilize the period of relative calm and non-communication is permitted to develop all kinds of rumours, false impressions, exaggerated enemy images and prejudice about the other side.

What one would have in mind is something like a national reconciliation council, a local “Geneva conference”, an invitation from the state to its minorities to participate in structuring societies in Krajina and elsewhere in manners that can satisfy mutual interests. It is true, as stated by government representaitves again and again that “the other side”/”the rebels”/”the Chetniks” only want to talk with the Croatian side on the basis of recognition of their right to self-determination including their own state. But that can also have to do with the essential unattractiveness of the offers made by the government. One can always find counterparts who are “impossible to deal with” but Croatia is also gifted with a majority of Serbs and other minorities/nationalities who are moderate. Instead of cultivating links and build trust with them, the government — e.g. through its practice of citizens laws and employment policies — has made their lives more difficult vis-a-vis their own and confirmed their initial suspicion pertaining to exclusively Croatian nation-building.


Peacebuilding – the remedying of root causes which led to the violence and thereby the prevention of new violence – has not been attempted except by a few local, experimental initiatives in Sector West and North. In UNPA West, UNPROFOR has initiated checkpoint meetings between Croat and Croat families and Croats and Serbs – stranded on the other side of ceasefire lines or having fled because of the war. Another idea was to help displaced persons and families to get parcels and letters over to the other side; and third consists in the setting up of housing containers in which Croat, Serbian and other families  live while re-building or repairing their homes. As of January, this took place on an experimental basis beginning with eight containers set up along the dividing street in Pakrac.

These are important, creative experiments made possible because of the personal energy and administrative creativity of a few civil affairs and military officers who are constantly in the field rather than in their offices and who have successfully identified the needs for establishing clear authority with local community leaders, mayors etc. — building trust and, thereby, also having something to offer with a perspective.

The sad fact, however, is that such attempts as simultaneous, systematic peace-keeping, -making and -building organized by UNPROFOR hinges on a few personalities and are likely to disappear the moment they leave the zone(s). It is the TFF team’s impression that there is considerable opposition within the UN system higher up against such experiments. In a strict sense they transgress UNPROFOR’s mandate, but that should be interpreted more as a comment on the mandate than on the peacebuilding efforts in the regions.

It must be recommended strongly that these small seeds of peacebuilding be developed, all civil society potentials exploited, resources allocated and continuity created in such activities. As a matter of fact, all peacekeeping operations are dead-ends or will drag on for years (if not decades) unless they are integrated with peacemaking and peacebuilding. In other words, this would be most cost-efficient.

Why the Parties are Not Yet Ready
Three inroads:
A. Long term status and positioning: Serb autonomy/independent state versus Croatia’s demand for sovereignty and control. Status of minorities, etc.
B. Concrete issues: water, electricity, infrastructure, economic cooperation.
C. The relations and the perceptions the parties have of each other. Nobody is handling them, neither in Geneva nor in Zagreb (cf. the self-understanding, history, traumas etc).
Argument: until somebody does something to help the parties deal with C, they will not succeed with A and B.

What Can and Should Be Done?
• Identify common interests: avoid war and violence, build confidence, get economic development going
• Recognize that, on the one hand, Croatia is not likely to accept the RSK as an independent republic and, on the other, Serbs are not likely to accept integration into a integrated independent Croatia. Something else must be devised.
• The parties are at war: cease-fire is absolutely essential. To achieve demilitarization in and perhaps around UNPAs, UNPROFOR must be strengthened.
• Minorities: their status in international law is difficult to apply to the specific circumstances in Yugoslavia. It is true that the reference to self-determination is usually linked to the Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories and the process of de-colonization taking place in the 1960es  and 1970es. It is also true that a constituent people cannot be reduced to a minority without being listened to and forced to live in a state, the historical predecessor of which mass-murdered them a few decades ago.

Other possibilities
To be explored, to be objects of dialogue between parties – pros and cons:

• UNPAs for decades?
• Autonomy?
• Independent state?
• Regionalization?
• Protectorate?
• Condominium?

Living together? Give the softliners a chance?

Yes, we believe they can. We have met enough people in the countryside in Croatia and Krajina to be convinced that, given the right stimulus, they can. After the Second World War genocide had taken place even to a larger extent than during the last couple of years – and ordinary citizens anyhow lived, intermarried and worked, and build communities together. The trick is to turn from negative, destructive social energies to positive ones.

We have seen local farmers who have lost everything and are ready to work together with their neighbours because they – as down-to-earth practical people – know that there is no other way in mixed communities. Today all young men are absorbed/enrolled in the army, but given a full normal population, the right to return and rebuild and if the economic aid for reconstruction could be provided there is no doubt that in many – indeed most – but not all local communities, cooperation can re-emerge in the future. But having lost everything and listening day and night to Serbian and Croatian forces shooting over their valleys on each other, there is little people can hope for and even less they can do.

• Europe can make a revolutionary difference
Get into local societies everywhere by means of UNPROFOR and identify local potentialities in the fields of social life, agricultural, industrial, handicraft, schools etc. We do not imply that all this is a matter of money or deny that there are areas everywhere where hate is so deep that community re-building seems impossible at present. But if Europe switched its perspective from negative punishment to positive rewards, helping victims and softline leaders it would make a tremendous difference and be much cheaper than any military intervention.

This would be peace-making and peace-building in one
– and it would successively undermine the support war-leaders have. As we heard again and again, there are no alternatives but the army for young and mid-aged men and all well-educated people only think of how to leave e.g. Serbia and Croatia’s Serb-dominated areas. Think, for once, what it would mean for them if the rest of us tried to provide them with opportunities, with ways out of the war. It would be preventive economic diplomacy, preventing conflicts to re-occur or flare up again, precisely as we have now witnessed in Krajina.

Economic development as peacebuilding and preventive diplomacy
The only humanitarian intervention that may work! There are two things everybody seem to agree on: a) when becoming independent they want to join “Europe” and b) if a major economic aid came to former Yugoslavia and people would again prosper and rebuild their society, this war would be over in a few days.
The question that must be raised is: Why has the international community not helped local leaders and citizens to improve their lives, start joint ventures etc. under the precondition that it would all build upon Croat-Serb cooperation and profit sharing. Why did the international community not reward the softliners instead of — in vain — attempting only to punish hard-liners?

The strategy could be rather simple
Begin with what is most needed – rebuilding houses, infrastructure, local community feeling. Go on to restart economic activity – be it wood, glass, metal, agricultural production, food processing, tourism, mining. Set up criteria that the board and the work force must reflect the ethnic composition of the community. Go on, third, to local law and order, help the local governments to re-employ their people and mixed staffs – all of it under UN protection (civil, military and police) and perhaps with the CSCE present too.
Take on development experts and Yugoslav experts who can be advisers in the very first phase and let them be followed up by community development people who can train locals in various ways so that every single activity will be carried, as rapidly as possibly, by locals. Employ conflict-resolution experts and facilitators everywhere.

As soon as all this develops in an integrated manner, hardly anybody would consider continued war the better alternative. 
The war lords would become irrelevant. But, of course, we have to believe that people do not want war. Even if some do want it, peacebuilding like this would create islands of peace and stability and human rights, they would attract others – and for constructive opportunities instead of looting, black marketeering and what is worse.

All of this can be done in many places. It would serve as buffers around the areas where the level of tension does not permit such reconciliatory experiments.

That — and nothing else — should be termed humanitarian intervention and it would be in unison with the civilizational level Europe considers itself to represent.

Democratization and human rights in Croatia
We are deeply convinced that the new state of Croatia got the wrong start but that it can be remedied. The legacy of authoritarianism is found here as in virtually all other places of former Yugoslavia. There will, therefore, be no peaceful solution and no prosperity in the long run unless Croatia develops and unfolds it democratic potentials rather than narrows them down successively. The war situation cannot be taken as an excuse for clamping down on people and the media.
The same people who maintain that Yugoslavia was grossly undemocratic are, in today’s Croatia, themselves repressing people to an extent not acceptable by any standards.