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Veteran Cops on UN Monitoring Force Have Tough Beat

February 24, 1996

VOGOSCA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ It’s one of the toughest jobs in helping bring peace to Bosnia: Veteran police officers _ unarmed _ from U.N. member states are assigned to safeguard Sarajevo as the Muslim-led government takes control of Serb neighborhoods.

But the force is desperately short of manpower. Supposed to number 1,700 police, it so far has only 295.

Just 90 of them are walking the beat in Vogosca, which on Friday became the first of five Serb suburbs to begin the gradual process of being handed over to a Muslim-Croat federation, as part of the peace plan.

Spread so thin, the international police were happy to have NATO-led troops in armored vehicles backing them up on their first day. ``It’s a great show of force,″ U.N. police monitor Robert McConn of Roscommon, Ireland, said Friday.

The U.N. police are in Vogosca to supervise a new local police force _ and to make Serbs feel safe living among their wartime enemies.

Balkan police often played an active role in almost four years of ethnic killings, and Serbs fear Muslims and Croats will seek revenge on them for Serb attacks on the city during the war. Because of that fear, nearly 90 percent of Vogosca’s Serb residents have fled.

The suburb was nearly deserted when the Muslim-Croat police arrived at dawn Friday in a light snow.

Before the hand-over, U.N. monitors screened 140 candidates for the local police force, making sure that all were professional policemen and not soldiers. Monitors also tried to make 40 percent of Vogosca’s local force Bosnian Serbs.

But filling their own ranks has proved even more of a challenge.

Many U.N. states have been reluctant to send police to Bosnia, and some, such as the United States, say budget troubles at home make it difficult for them to provide police.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Bosnian peace accord, has said that one of his biggest concerns in Bosnia is that the U.N. police force _ unlike the NATO-led troops implementing the peace accord _ have no experience working together.

``We must find a way to strengthen the police,″ Holbrooke said in an article published Thursday in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

To serve in the international force for Bosnia, police must have a working knowledge of English, at least eight years’ experience and acceptable driving skills.

By Feb. 11, 213 U.N. monitors had passed through a five-day training program in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, but 105 failed the driving test, and 13 failed the English exam.

Few, if any, members of the U.N. police force speak the local language, relying on translators whom they must summon by radio. And so far, the international police and their NATO colleagues have largely failed to convince Serb residents that it is safe to stay.

``The fears remain,″ said Robert Wasserman, of West Tisbury, Mass., deputy chief of the U.N. monitoring force. ``There are lots of people who just want to leave, and just don’t believe that there will be peace and tranquility.″

The force’s chief is Peter Fitzgerald, of Ireland.

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