Thursday, July 23, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.N. Force Unpopular From Start In Sarajevo


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - When the white U.N. armored personnel carriers roll through the streets escorting food shipments to the people of this surrounded city, there are no cheers or thanks.

Often there is an obscene gesture, or a gunshot plinking off the vehicles' steel plating.

In the fog of war, many residents of Sarajevo believe the U.N. peacekeepers have tilted in favor of the Serbian nationalists firing at them from the surrounding hills.

Even though his troops are bringing in 200 tons of food and medicine each day, "Nobody's saying `Thank you,' " said Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, the Canadian commander of the 1,200 Canadian and French troops in Sarajevo.

"When people give you the finger going down the street, I guess you could say relations are not exactly ideal," he said.

"It's true. Nobody loves them," said Maglen Alioehajic, a student huddling in his building's doorway shortly after a bullet ricocheted by.

"They could do much, much more. They could stop this war if they would send peacemakers instead of peacekeepers."

The U.N. forces arrived with a limited mandate, mainly to reopen Sarajevo's airport so food and medicine could be delivered to the besieged city. The airport was back in operation on June 29, ending a two-month blockade.

"People have incredible expectations of us to do things for them that we are not here for," said Mik Magnusson, the spokesman for the U.N. forces in Sarajevo. "Instead of being grateful, they're frustrated."

MacKenzie said the Bosnian government of President Alija Izetbegovic bears much of the responsibility for not explaining his troops' limited mission. He said his relations with the administration were "perhaps at an all-time low."

One Bosnian official said resentment of the U.N. force is natural in a city stretched to the limit by four months of war.

"It is a very complex psychological situation," said Hajrudin Somun, an adviser to the Bosnian presidency. People feel abandoned so they "want to accuse anybody from the outside."

Izetbegovic has praised the role of the peacekeepers, Somun said, but the U.N. force made "mistakes" that convinced people early on that the troops favored the Serbs - such as when a U.N. vehicle carried relatives of a prominent Serbian nationalist politician safely out of the city.

The pro-Serb image of the U.N. force is firmly fixed in the minds of many residents.

"Phoo! It is a Chetnik organization," said Bosnian soldier Mustafa Hrasnic, using the derisive term for Serbian nationalists.

"I am thankful that they brought this food, but the question is what would be better for us in the long run: food or weapons?" said Hrasnic, who was recuperating from a leg wound he suffered two weeks ago. "Without the weapons, in the long run they will kill us anyway. . . . So what does this help really mean?"

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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