The United Nations needs to fix its troubled peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Bosnia before taking on ambitious new responsibilities in Africa, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan today.

Warner's stern advice came just three days before Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright is scheduled to preside over a U.N. conference, attended by seven African heads of state, to consider a peacekeeping mission in Congo. It also reflected mounting concern in Congress about open-ended U.N. missions in the Balkans.

Warner said his committee has approved more than $10 billion in funding for the Balkans in the past decade. But after a trip to the region last week, he said, he has concluded "the only thing that is organized [there] is crime."

"Frankly, [U.S. Ambassador Richard C.] Holbrooke is putting this tremendous emphasis on Africa," Warner said in an interview before a special hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I would have to express great concern if I saw a lot of funds that could now relieve this crisis situation in Bosnia and Kosovo being diverted to the African continent."

Annan has asked the U.N. Security Council to approve sending 11,000 peacekeepers to help carry out a peace agreement in Sierra Leone, plus an initial 5,000 to Congo. U.N. officials also have developed contingency plans for a mission to stop the fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Holbrooke and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen have voiced skepticism in private meetings with U.N. leaders about the organization's capacity to launch a peacekeeping mission in Congo. But Holbrooke defended the Clinton administration's Africa policy during the Foreign Relations Committee's unusual hearing on the United Nations, which was held at the New York Bar Association.

"The choice is very stark in Sierra Leone: Vote for a modest increase in peacekeepers, or face a real blood bath," Holbrooke said.

Holbrooke also challenged Warner's characterization of U.N. efforts in the Balkans as a failure. The European Union, he said, also deserves a share of the blame for failing to meet its obligation to finance the reconstruction of Kosovo. "If we're on the brink of failure in the Balkans, it's not the fault of the U.N.," he said. "It's the fault of the whole system."

Holbrooke was joined in his defense of the United Nations by key members of the Foreign Relations Committee, who told diplomats that most of the Senate does not share the severe views voiced Thursday by the committee's chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), in a speech to the U.N. Security Council. "Helms has a right-wing constituency, so he's got to say tough things about the U.N.," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the committee's ranking minority member, said in an interview. "But the message here is: 'Look, we're on board, now let's get to work.' "