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UN gives green light to Afghan observer force ... reluctantly

Security Council approval on Tuesday to deploy a 50-man United Nations observer team to monitor Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was grudging, tardy, and provisional. Behind-the-scenes Council disagreements tied up official approval of the observer mission beyond the April 24 date on which the force was to take the field.

The delay and reluctance to give Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar carte blanche stemmed both from concerns expressed by prospective troop contributors and from intramural squabbling within the Council itself.

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High on the list of concerns was the still imprecise security provisions for the unarmed observers. Commenting on the likely upsurge in civil war among the Afghan factions after the Soviet Army leaves, a Canadian newspaper voiced a general concern when it said editorially: ``Policing a shooting gallery is not necessarily the best way to peace.''

Equally ominous was an Afghan rebel leader's implicit warning in an interview in a Swedish newspaper that his guerrillas probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between UN observers and enemy soldiers.

Nevertheless, Canada and Sweden are among the nine or 10 countries that have tentatively agreed to provide observers.

The provisional nature of the Council's approval was dictated by a variety of considerations, including:

Moscow's resistance to sending Canadian, Irish, and Danish observers into Afghanistan. The Council finally agreed to keep the original three but to confine them to Pakistan.

Washington's insistence that UN observers leave Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Soviet withdrawal. In a letter to the Security Council, the Secretary-General conceded that ``the bulk'' of observers could be withdrawn after 10 months.

The debate within the UN Secretariat over whether the observers would come under the authority of Undersecretary-General Diego Cordovez, architect of the Geneva accords, or the political affairs department responsible for peacekeeping operations. Eventually, Mr. Cordovez won out.

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Along with its tentative go-ahead, the Council has put the Secretary-General on notice that it expects something more formal than the exchange of letters that cleared the way for the observers to take the field. Spearheaded by Brazil with China's support, some Council members are also insisting that the action must have the early sanction of a UN resolution, adopted after debate and a formal vote.

The Council's offstage consultations pivoted on whether or not the observers constitute a peacekeeping force. If they do, as a majority of the Council contends, the operation would require Security Council authorization.

But in winning provisional authorization, the Secretary-General pleaded the urgency of the matter, and said the observers would merely ``be redeployed from existing UN operations already authorized by Council resolution.'' Most are expected to come from the UN Truce Supervision Organization on duty in the Middle East.

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