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NATO Shifts Role to Rebuilding Bosnia
Over Its Fears of a UN-Type Failure,
NATO Embarks on a Peace-Building Phase

Building Wreckage in Bosnia (March 26—Sarajevo) The wreckage of Bosnia is apparant. Blasted-out buildings, lack of communications, a devastated infrastructure. And now, NATO has come to realize that if a lasting peace is to come to Bosnia after its departure, there must be Bosnia worth preserving.

So, three months into their mission in Bosnia, commanders of the NATO-led forces say they are ready to shift their focus from ending the war to rebuilding the country in peace. The announcement Monday signaled that NATO was expecting full compliance with the last military milestone in the peace agreement—the withdrawal of all forces to barracks and all heavy weapons to storage areas by April 18. The U.N. peacekeeping mission that preceded NATO was doomed in part because it spread itself too thin. Fearing that problem would hit them as well, NATO commanders initially insisted on sticking to the military role assigned in Bosnia’s peace pact.

But the force has been so successful in implementing the military provisions of the pact—maintaining the cease-fire and separating the combatants—that officials feel it can take on the challenge of trying to get Muslims, Croats and Serbs to live together again. "The military commanders have now accepted that they will change their emphasis," said Maj. Simon Haselock, a NATO spokesman.

"We’re now saying that we will assist in civil projects in a much more dynamic way than we have done," he said. "This shift in the emphasis of land forces operations is in response to the obvious need for civil assistance in repairing and replacing the infrastructure damaged after four years of war." After April 18, Haselock said peacekeepers will help clear mines as well as assisting in transportation, communications and medical care.

No Word on Gravesite Protection
Despite the new flexibility, there was no indication that NATO would assume a greater role in guarding suspected mass grave sites against tampering before planned excavations this spring. Most of the sites are believed to hold victims of Serb massacres.

Last week, the commander of NATO ground forces in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, said compliance with the April 18 deadline would enable NATO to switch to more of a military monitoring role and help with civilian duties. But he said NATO would be "very careful" about getting directly involved in hunting down indicted war criminals—including Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic—or protecting mass graves. Those activities could lead to direct confrontation with well-armed local forces.

Civil Affairs Units Take Spotlight
NATO civil affairs units, in cooperation with the military, have already begun helping to coordinate reconstruction projects with local officials and some of the more than 200 international organizations working in Bosnia. As Bosnia moves to a shaky peace, it faces other problems ranging from a shortage of cash to boundary disputes and a barely functioning Muslim-Croat federation, which is to govern half of Bosnia.

Michael Steiner, whose office oversees the implementation of the civilian aspects of the peace accord, said Muslim and Croat leaders who were attending meetings Monday to discuss problems plaguing the federation. Formed as a counterweight to the Bosnian Serb republic, the federation has been unable to overcome animosities left over from a year of Muslim-Croat fighting in 1993-94. If the federation unravels, the likelihood is great that Bosnia will fall apart after NATO troops withdraw.

Steiner was joined at NATO’s news briefing by a Muslim photographer who was freed from captivity Monday. The Bosnian Serbs dropped charges that Hidajet Delic, 48, ordered the killing of a Serb. Delic, an employee of the Bosnian government’s BH Press, frequently does freelance work for The Associated Press. Delic had denied the Serb charges.

Additional resources
NATO World Wide Web Site
NATO IFOR News Releases
NATO Searchable Handbook

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