Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced Sunday that he will allow a limited number of U.N. peacekeepers to remain in his country, reversing a stance that had raised fears that the Balkan nation would slip back into civil war.
"We have arrived at a new solution," Tudjman said at a joint news conference with Vice President Al Gore at the U.N. World Summit for Social Development, a huge anti-poverty gathering that had been meeting here for the past week. The Croatian leader said Gore and other world leaders had persuaded him to change his mind.
"There is no deadline" for a full-scale U.N. troop pullout from Croatia, he said.
Until Sunday, Tudjman had insisted that all of the 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Croatia would have to begin leaving the country after their mandate expires March 31, arguing that they had helped Serbian rebels occupy Croatian territory. On Sunday, Tudjman said that he envisions about 5,000 of the troops remaining in the country.
In 1991, six months of civil war in Croatia cost about 10,000 lives, but the country has been largely at peace since the U.N. troops arrived in 1992. International analysts had been warning that without a continued U.N. presence, war between Serbs and Croats would flare up once again, posing a grave risk that the fighting would spread to neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, where a shaky four-month truce is scheduled to expire May 1.
"This is very good news," Gore said at the news conference. He promised "full U.S. support" for restoring Croatian control over territory lost to the Serbs but did not say how the Serbs would be dislodged.
Asked whether the United States had offered Tudjman any economic incentives for his reversal during private discussions at the margins of the Copenhagen summit, Gore said that the prospect of continued peace should be incentive enough.
"I expressed our deep concern that the departure of the U.N. presence from the scene now would lead to full-scale war between Croatian Serbs and government forces," he said.
Tudjman is expected to visit the United States this week for talks with President Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
In his speech at the closing session of the summit, Tudjman complained that the occupation of Croatian territory by rebel Serbs has kept his country from reaching its full economic potential.
"The consequences of (these) aggressive policies and armed conflicts have to be redressed by the active involvement and help of the international community," he said.
Tudjman's announcement lent a definitive note to a gathering that had otherwise produced few breakthroughs.
In his own contribution to a long day of speechmaking Sunday, Gore told summit participants that the United States must "redefine the way we fight poverty," and he promised that the U.S. Agency for International Development, or AID, will make a significant increase in the share of money it channels through non-governmental relief groups.
"We believe that permanent gains can occur only if we encourage free markets," he told the assembled leaders, many of whom came from countries that had been charging, over the course of the summit, that free-market forces are one of the key causes of poverty in developing nations.
Gore announced what he called a "New Partnership Initiative," in which AID will increase the money it distributes through non-governmental groups to 40% over the next five years, up from 32%.
Many relief groups and economic analysts have long argued that non-governmental organizations--known in the foreign-aid community as NGOs--are far more effective at helping the poor than government institutions. The NGOs, which include such diverse organizations as food-distribution charities, medical teams and business umbrella groups, tend to be more successful because they have specific areas of expertise and are willing to get out into the field and work one-on-one with the poor.
AID has a budget of about $6 billion and has been under attack in the Republican-controlled Congress, where representatives have proposed cutting foreign aid in general and eliminating the agency altogether, handing over its functions to the State Department.
Gore also said that the new initiative calls for U.S. foreign aid to increasingly support small businesses and to build up local governments in poor countries.
The summit, billed as the biggest gathering of national leaders in U.N. history, produced a lengthy resolution in which all participating countries agreed on the best ways to attack absolute poverty. But the document was criticized as non-binding and less than innovative, and some of the leaders who spoke over the weekend expressed disappointment and made proposals of their own.
The leaders of France and host country Denmark, for instance, vowed to breathe new life into a controversial proposal to impose a global tax on foreign-currency speculation that would be channeled to poor countries via the United Nations. The tax was extensively discussed by summit participants but eventually deemed unworkable and left out of the final resolution.
Canadian delegates said their country might bring up the global tax again at the next meeting of the G-7, the Group of Seven industrialized nations, to be held in Halifax.