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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.N. Studies Feasibility of Air Strikes

GENEVA -- U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on Wednesday ordered a preliminary study of NATO's threat of air strikes against Bosnian Serbs to reopen Tuzla airport and relieve trapped U.N. troops, a spokeswoman said.

Boutros-Ghali has asked Yasushi Akashi, his special representative in former Yugoslavia, to examine the feasibility of such air strikes and report to a high-level meeting of U.N. officials in Geneva on Monday, the spokeswoman added.

In their declaration on Tuesday, NATO leaders urged the U.N. to draw up urgent plans to ensure 300 Canadian peacekeepers could leave the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, besieged by Bosnian Serbs. They also asked for U.N. advice on opening Tuzla airport for humanitarian relief purposes.

President Bill Clinton said the Western military alliance was considering using air power in both places.

Boutros-Ghali, who is commander in chief of all U.N. forces, ordered the study as his relations with the commander of the 27,000 U.N. troops in the Balkans, General Jean Cot of France, further deteriorated over the use of air power against the Bosnian Serbs, diplomats at the U.N. said Tuesday.

In an interview last week with the French newspaper Le Monde, Cot said that he had repeatedly asked Boutros-Ghali to delegate to him the authority to call in air strikes. Cot said the secretary general refused.

In response, Boutros-Ghali dispatched a cable to Cot on Friday, described by diplomats as by far the strongest reprimand ever sent to a U.N. commander, saying his actions were "inappropriate" and "incompatible" with his position.

According to U.N. Security Council resolutions, the final go-ahead for the air strikes must be given by Boutros-Ghali. He has said he will base his decision on the advice of U.N. officials in Bosnia, including Cot.

"I have received no request for the use of air power" from U.N. officials in Bosnia, Boutros-Ghali said Tuesday in Paris. "The day I receive such a request, and if I have the support of U.N. officials who believe it is urgent to use air power, I will be the first to back its use."

Up to now, however, the secretary general has been hesitant to recommend air strikes out of concern that lightly armed U.N. peacekeepers would face retaliation by more powerful Serb forces.

The U.N. repeatedly has faced difficulties in imposing its authority over commanders from large, sophisticated armies in peacekeeping operations.

In Somalia, it secured the withdrawal of Italian Brigadier General Bruno Loi after he followed instructions from Rome to avoid fighting with Somali militiamen instead of obeying combat orders from the U.N. force commander.

Last winter, French Lieutenant Philippe Morillon, then the commander of U.N. troops in Bosnia, was moved by the plight of Bosnia's civilians and led a crusade to Srebrenica, against the advice of U.N. officials and even of Paris.

During this week's NATO summit, France pushed for an allied military response to the abuses against U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia.