UNTAES:

A Success Story in the Former Yugoslavia

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by Captain David Sterling Jones

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United Nations, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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Since 1991, the story of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) has been one of bloodshed and missed opportunities for a peace not seen in Europe since World War II. Likewise, most observers say that United Nations (U.N.) efforts to bring peace to the region during this same period have also been bloody and ill-planned. Few would look back on the efforts of U.N. Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) or U.N. Confidence Restoration Operations (UNCRO) in Croatia and find much to claim as a success.

Actually, the United Nations has done much to contribute to peace in the FRY. Since the deployment of the Dayton Accords Implementation Force (IFOR), followed by the deployment of the Stabilization Force (SFOR), little has been heard of the preceding U.N. missions, although they have continued to operate. The U.N. Preventive Deployment (UNPREDEP), the U.N. Observer Mission Prevlaka (UNMOP), and the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) are missions that continue to make a positive contribution to the fragile peace in the FRY.

As demonstrated by UNTAES, the mandate and actions of a U.N. mission can have far-reaching effects in the Balkans. The UNTAES mission, its origin, and, more importantly, the course that UNTAES has taken recently are important factors in understanding one of the few success stories of the United Nations in the Balkans.

 

Background

The UNTAES region is a 2300-square-kilometer area comprised of the Baranja, Eastern Slavonia, and Western Sirmium regions of eastern Croatia (see Figure 1). The region borders Hungary to the north and shares the Danube River as a border with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Eastern Slavonia is a broad fertile plain, whose agricultural yield helped the region to enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in the FRY. It served as the FRY's granary and has significant oil deposits in the south, to boot. Historically, the area has been inhabited by a mixed population of Croats, Serbs, Hungarians, and others.

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Figure 1.  The UNTAES Region in Europe

In May 1991, the people held a referendum regarding Croatia’s future in the Yugoslav federation. Just one month after the referendum, on 25 June 1991, the Republic of Croatia declared its independence. Shortly after the declaration, Serbs who were living within Croatia intensified their armed insurrection against the Croatian government. As a part of the broader conflict which broke out throughout Croatia, Eastern Slavonia was overrun by the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA), a force led by a Serb-majority officers corps and aided by Serb paramilitaries. The city of Vukovar suffered a four-month-long siege by the JNA that destroyed eighty percent of the city. All sides committed a number of war crimes during and after the fighting, which led the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to indict three JNA officers and the former Mayor of Vukovar, Slavko Dokmanovic, for the execution of more than 200 Croatian prisoners of war at Ovcara Farm. The Serb forces eventually seized control of the region which now makes up the UNTAES area of responsibility.

Between 1992 and 1995, the area------called United Nations Protected Area (UNPA) Sector East------saw continued, although greatly reduced, hostilities between the warring factions. Hostilities were kept to a minimum by the presence of U.N. peacekeepers who were part of UNPROFOR (March 1992 through March 1995) and UNCRO (April 1995 through January 1996). In May and August 1995, Croatian forces conducted offensive operations which recaptured all portions of Serb-held territory in Croatia, except for UNPA Sector East. By Fall 1995, it was clear that unless the Serb local authorities and the Croatian Government could come to an agreement on the eventual return of UNPA Sector East to Croatian control, the Croatian Army (Hrvatska Volska, HV) would use military force and the Yugoslav Army (Volska Jugoslaviji, VJ) might be drawn into the battle in support of the local Serb forces, Srpske Volska Krajina (SVK).

 

The UNTAES Mission

On 12 November 1995, U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith and U.N. Special Envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg negotiated a "Basic Agreement" (also known as the Erdut Agreement) between the local Serb authorities and the Croatian Government. The agreement provided the framework for resolving the last major territorial conflict within the borders of the Republic of Croatia. The talks commenced in September 1995 and amounted to the first step of the Dayton process.

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The Vukovar water tower, symbol of Croation Defenders

Serbs demonstrate outside the UNTAES HQ in Vukovar

The "Basic Agreement" called for the United Nations to establish a transitional authority and to deploy an international force. The mission of the force was to demilitarize the region, monitor the safe return of refugees and displaced persons, and conduct local elections. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1037 established UNTAES on 15 January 1996.

The UNTAES mandate clearly states that the mission’s objective is the peaceful reintegration of the territory under its administration into Croatia. The mandate has been extended until 15 January 1998, although a gradual drawdown of its military forces began on 15 July 1997.

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A Pakistani (PAKBAT) T-59 providing security on election day

The mission is headed by Transitional Administrator Jacques Paul Klein, a senior American Foreign Service Officer (and Air Force Reserve Major General). He is accompanied by seventeen personnel detailed from the U.S. Armed Forces and State Department. At its height, UNTAES' military forces were comprised of more than 5,000 troops from Argentina, Belgium, The Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and The Ukraine.1 UNTAES also employs approximately 700 civilians, 455 U.N. civilian police (UNCIVPOL), 100 U.N. military observers (UNMOs), and 41 border monitors from various nations.

 

Accomplishments

After deploying to the area in April 1996, UNTAES successfully demilitarized the area by 20 June 1996. Serb military and paramilitary units were disbanded and all heavy weapons were removed from the region.

Since demilitarization, UNTAES has made considerable progress in the political tasks of reintegration. It has opened communications and transport infrastructure, as well as international bus and train services. It has won significant employment guarantees in public services for the local residents and established a multi-ethnic Transitional Police Force. Also, UNTAES obtained access for all the region’s residents to Croatian citizenship papers. Finally, elections under Croatian law for the area’s local authorities were held on 13 April 1997.

 

UNTAES and ICTY

The UNTAES mandate clearly states that the "fullest support" will be provided to the members of the ICTY in their investigation of war crimes, excavation of grave sites, and apprehension of war criminals. Accordingly, the Transitional Administrator, Jacques Klein, issued guidance to both the military and civilian proponents of UNTAES to use mission resources to assist the ICTY. This support includes aiding in the investigation of war crimes, excavation of grave sites, and the apprehension of war criminals.

While UNTAES has assisted in the excavation of numerous mass grave sites, its support to ICTY also led to the 27 June 1997 arrest of suspected war criminal Slavko Dokmanovic, wanted for his participation in the Ovcara massacre of more than 200 Croatian prisoners of war. The succesful capture of Dokmanovic was the result of the United Nation's thorough planning, good coordination with the ICTY, and willingness to break away from past "modus operandi" of its conduct of military operations. The pitfalls and success of that process will be presented in a future article.2

 

Conclusion

As the UNTAES mission nears its conclusion, it is clear to observers of the FRY that the nationalist ambitions and ethnic hatreds that led to and fueled the "Wars of Yugoslav Succession" have yet to vanish from the peoples' minds. As witnessed in the successful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia into Croatia, the United Nations is learning from its past failures and is applying these lessons to current missions. With the movement of Transitional Administrator Jacques Klein from the UNTAES mission to the position of Deputy High-Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he will carry a clear mandate and the knowledge of how to achieve that mandate.

The arrest of Slavko Dokmanovic on 27 June 1997 and the subsequent arrest of another indicted war criminal by British SFOR troops on 10 July 1997, signal a turning point in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. Clearly U.N. and SFOR missions in the FRY are joined in the venture and will taste the sweet wine of success or the grapes of wrath together.

 

Endnotes

1. The United States was not part of the UNTAES military force.

2. See the January-March 1998 issue of the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin for the second part of this article.

Captain Dave Jones currently serves as the Operations Group S2 at Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC). As an artillery officer, he served with the 1st Armor Division as a Battalion Fire Support Officer during Operation DESERT STORM and later as the Division Artillery S2. CPT Jones served as an armor battalion S2 and as a company commander in Korea. While serving as a Task Force S2 Observer/Controller at the CMTC, he attended the U.N. Military Observer and Staff Officer courses in Finland and Ireland. CPT Jones served as the Special Assistant to the Transitional Administrator for UNTAES from January through July 1997. He is a Distinguished Military Graduate of the Johns Hopkins University ROTC program. Readers can contact the author via E-mail at jonesd@hqaecmtc1. hohenfels.army.mil and telephonically at German civilian telephone 011 09472 83 2033 and DSN (315) 466-2033.