Escalating a battle over U.N. actions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United States issued an unusual public slap at U.N. envoy Yasushi Akashi on Friday, saying he was too lenient when he let Bosnian Serbs move tanks through the weapons-exclusion zone around Sarajevo.
State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said the United States strongly objected to the violation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-enforced zone and said: "We would like to see (Akashi) do a better job."
The public complaint was the latest salvo in a feud between the Clinton Administration and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's man in Bosnia. Last month, Akashi publicly derided U.S. policy in Bosnia as "somewhat reticent, somewhat afraid, timid and tentative."
Diplomats said the Administration's public complaint came close to a demand that Boutros-Ghali either fire Akashi or publicly discipline him, but the U.N. chief has shown no inclination to do so. Boutros-Ghali said in Geneva that Akashi "continues to have my full confidence. There's no question of any kind of replacement."
The immediate issue was a decision by Akashi to let Bosnian Serbs move tanks across the 12-mile exclusion zone around Sarajevo.
NATO ordered the Bosnian Serbs to move all tanks and other heavy weapons out of the zone in February and enforced the decision with air power.
"We certainly did not support a decision of this type," Shelly said. "We do not concur in decisions that acquiesce in actions that violate the exclusion zone."
Asked whether the United States had confidence in Akashi, she read from a prepared response: "We do not support calls for his resignation. We would like to see him do a better job."
The Muslim-led Bosnian government has said it no longer will deal with Akashi and demanded his resignation. A Bosnian Serb spokesman, on the other hand, praised the Japanese diplomat as "neutral."
Behind that argument lay a broader, more important dispute: Akashi has often compromised with the Bosnian Serbs to protect U.N. peacekeeping forces from attack--even though that has sometimes meant softening the impact of U.N. or NATO decisions. The Administration, struggling to convey a sense of Western power and resolve after two years of impotent diplomacy, has seen Akashi's attempts at conciliation as conflicting with that goal.
Last month, the Administration was upset when Akashi refused to approve air strikes against Serbian forces firing on the Muslim town of Gorazde in violation of a NATO ultimatum. Akashi responded by calling the United States "timid" for refusing to put ground troops of its own into Bosnia--drawing a complaint to Boutros-Ghali from Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
A few weeks later, senior U.N. officials serving under Akashi told reporters in Sarajevo that they considered the United States partly to blame for the continuing war in Bosnia--drawing another protest from Albright.
Albright telephoned Boutros-Ghali again this week to complain about Akashi's decision to allow the Bosnian Serb tanks to move near Sarajevo.
U.N. spokesman Joe Sills said Akashi "reluctantly agreed" to the Bosnian Serb request for an exception to the NATO order. In return, the Bosnian Serbs allowed the United Nations to send 16 observers to Brcko, in northern Bosnia, and ended a blockade of a convoy of 170 British troops.
Gen. George Joulwan, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, reacted sharply, complaining that Akashi's compromise diminished the alliance's ability to enforce its own ultimatum.
Akashi gave the Serbs permission to move seven tanks on flatbed trucks across the Sarajevo exclusion zone, but only five T-34 tanks had moved through by Friday. After the United States complained, Akashi called Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to tell him that the "agreement was off," a U.N. spokesman told the Associated Press in Sarajevo.
On Friday afternoon, the Serbs moved two more tanks into the exclusion zone, but U.N. forces intercepted them and took them to weapons collection depots, the AP reported.
Times staff writer Stanley Meisler contributed to this report.