Croatian Leader, Impatient With Stalemate, Expels U.N. : Balkans: President Tudjman terminates peacekeepers' mandate. Troops must complete withdrawal by July.


Croatian President Franjo Tudjman expressed his impatience with the stalemated Balkans peacekeeping mission Thursday by giving the U.N. Protection Force until the end of June to leave his country.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Tudjman said he had decided to call an end to the mission that has 14,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Serb-held Croatian territory.

"The U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) mandate is hereby terminated effective March 31, 1995," Tudjman said, adding that the troops will be allowed an additional three months to complete their withdrawal.

Tudjman also noted that the mission, which has more than 30,000 troops and civilians stationed elsewhere in the Balkans, mostly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is welcome to keep its headquarters in Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

Croatian authorities have repeatedly threatened to end the U.N. mission's mandate out of frustration with the 33-month-old deployment that has ultimately served to firm up Serb-rebel control over one-third of Croatia.

While Thursday's formal notification appeared to signal readiness on Zagreb's part to risk another war with the heavily armed Serbs holding the Krajina region, it could have also been intended as a challenge to the peacekeeping hierarchy to make good on its aim of re-integrating the occupied territory by the end of March.

Tudjman can rescind the withdrawal order at any time before the mandate expires.

In his letter, Tudjman accused the U.N. troops of freezing the status quo and doing little to bring about a lasting solution to the crisis brought on by a seven-month war between Serbs and Croats in 1991.

"Croatia finds the present situation in the occupied territories wholly unacceptable," he wrote. "Moreover, given the present inefficient UNPROFOR mission, Croatia finds the continued presence of UNPROFOR in the occupied territories to be significantly counterproductive to the peace process."

The move, effectively expelling the peacekeepers from the Krajina region, could provoke the rebels to follow through on threats to launch missiles against the Croatian capital and to destroy key industrial sites, such as the already damaged Peruca Dam, in the occupied territory.

U.N. special envoy Yasushi Akashi and Western diplomats in Zagreb had been advising Tudjman to remain patient to avoid igniting another full-scale war.

But the recent crisis over the Serb-encircled Bihac region of Bosnia-Herzegovina further eroded what little support remained for the U.N. mission.

Krajina Serbs openly joined their Bosnian Serb brethren in attacking the U.N. "safe area" of Bihac, drawing only one token North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrike as punishment.

The target of the NATO bombing, a Serbian military airport in the town of Udbina, was back in operation two weeks later.

The occupied Krajina region of Croatia has also been used, despite the U.N. presence, as a staging ground for a renegade Muslim militia loyal to black-market kingpin Fikret Abdic.

Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak said last month that the government regretted having taken Western advice--primarily from the United States--to refrain from attacking the Krajina Serb stronghold of Knin while the rebel forces were preoccupied with Bihac.

Tudjman's decision to eject the U.N. troops could signal that the Croatian government is planning a spring offensive aimed at retaking the occupied land. State-run media reports over the last two months appear to be preparing the public for another conflict.

Croatia has imported huge stockpiles of weapons, including about 60 MIG fighter jets, since its battle for secession from Yugoslavia that ended three years ago with the U.N. deployment.

But the Krajina Serbs also control considerable stocks of heavy artillery and some war planes, all inherited from the Yugoslav People's Army that has backed Serbs fighting for secession throughout the former Balkan federation.

At least 10,000 people were killed in the 1991 war in Croatia; 200,000 are dead or missing in Bosnia.

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