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U.N. STRATEGISTS UNSURE IF RAPID FORCE IS READY

Strategists at the United Nations aren't sure just how many troops from the much-heralded rapid reaction force actually are operating according to their mandate in Bosnia.

"We have been trying for weeks to deploy the rapid reaction force in Bosnia and to make it ready for action," a high-ranking U.N. strategist said in reply to a question on exactly how many troops are stationed in Bosnia.The U.N. Security Council demanded on Aug. 19 that the Croatian and Bosnian governments immediately stop their opposition to the stationing of the rapid reaction force in Bosnia, but the call has had no effect.

U.N. experts now wonder whether the governments in Zagreb and Sarajevo are capable of agreeing on the matter. The main objections come from local commanders on the ground, and often they won't listen to their governments or anybody else.

"Our information about the rapid reaction force has always been weak," the strategist said.

He estimates there are around 4,000 troops on the ground in Bosnia. The Security Council agreed on June 16 after much debate to dispatch 12,500 British, French and Dutch troops to the region.

Although some of the troops are on the ground, this doesn't mean they're ready for action. The rapid reaction force is often prevented from moving around the country by Bosnian government troops.

"To put it crudely, the Bosnians regard the rapid reaction forces as little more than Serbian spies and they don't want them to be where the fighting is," the strategist explained.

It's impossible to say how many troops are on the ground. What is known is that around 4,350 troops from the rapid reaction force are cooling their heels at the Croatian port of Ploce. Western diplomats say the Croatians are demanding large bribes to allow the troops to move forward.

Croatian generals, like their Bosnian counterparts, want to ensure that the force will only be used against Bosnian Serb forces. The U.N. has refused to give a guarantee, saying it would conflict with its mandate in former Yugoslavia and promise of neutrality.

The 4,000 French troops belonging to rapid reaction force are due to remain at home as a "strategic reserve." The British also want to retain part of their forces outside the arena.

As a result, the constant movement of troops makes it difficult for the U.N. to calculate how many troops it actually has on the ground.