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Life as World's `Punching Bag'

UN staffers in former Yugoslavia take shots from all directions - get clear orders from none

YOU'RE ineffective, you waste money, you appease fascism, and, according to your critics, your gutless inaction has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians. Welcome to life as a member of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the former Yugoslavia.

UN personnel on the ground here are the messengers that everyone loves to blame, from sniping US congressmen to outraged Muslim civilians to menacing Serb soldiers. ``That's our job in a way, to be everybody's punching bag,'' one UNPROFOR staffer laments. ``It's hard to keep your morale up sometimes.''

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For the 44,000 troops and civilians that make up the UN's much-maligned mission in the former Yugoslavia, these are trying times. UNPROFOR members say they are frustrated with the quagmire they find themselves in, but they are still not ready to leave.

Interviews with workers and troops at UNPROFOR headquarters in Zagreb and sites around the former Yugoslavia found waning morale, but a strong sense more good is being done than bad, and an overwhelming desire for new, clearer marching orders.

``If the five permanent members of the Security Council would make up their minds,'' one staffer says, ``then we could get something done.''

More than 1,500 soldiers and civilians from dozens of countries pack UNPROFOR headquarters in Zagreb.

Outside, thousands of bricks with handwritten names of Croatian war casualties are stacked in a low, haphazard memorial wall ringing part of the complex. Inside, a siege-like mentality has developed toward the press, with staffers fearing their frustration will be misinterpreted and used to further undermine UNPROFOR's already tattered reputation.

Staffers say the mission's biggest problem is its mixed goals. Differing policies from the United States, France, and Britain have led the UN Security Council to enact contradictory resolutions.

UNPROFOR is in theory a traditional peacekeeping mission favoring neither side in the conflict, but it has also been asked to enforce Security Council resolutions - such as safe zones for Muslim civilians - that clearly favor the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

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The major powers call for tougher action when they speak as national leaders, but the US refuses to send ground troops to Bosnia-Herzegovina, staffers say, and the Europeans fail to vote for tougher measures on the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, UNPROFOR staffers say, they get blamed for the failure of the UN mission to ``make peace'' here.

``The reason that blue-helmeted soldiers in UNPROFOR don't become more active is because those very powers on the Security Council don't want to change the way peacekeeping is done here,'' one staffer says.

``There are many of us who would advocate for a stronger position, but that requires the international community to develop a new policy and ask us to carry it out.''

Soldiers disagreed on whether more force needs to be used to punish Bosnian Serb hostage-taking and convoy blocking. Some agreed with British and French assessments that airstrikes would lead to Serb retaliations, while others called for the US-backed idea of more NATO heavy hitting.

``They are making fools of us,'' one soldier says. ``I think we need to use more force.''

For now, UNPROFOR staffers say they will continue to trudge along.

``I wouldn't recommend anyone getting a job like this because they think they will make things better,'' one staffer says.

``They'll probably be very frustrated, very quickly.''

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