Too Many Variables to Set a Date
(WASHINGTONReuters) The commander of NATO forces in Bosnia said Tuesday he was not prepared yet to recommend whether all peacekeeping forces should leave the country at the end of this year as planned. "I'm not prepared to make any recommendation about stay or go right now," Adm. Leighton Smith told reporters. "I think there are too many variables in this plan." But Smith, commander of the NATO Implementation Force in Bosnia, said he was confident he would be able to make that recommendation later as he sees how peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia unfold.
He said the question was whether any of the 60,000 NATO peacekeepers would be required to stay in Bosnia beyond a one-year deadline in order to keep warring factions apart and create a lasting peace. Despite U.S. insistence that the 20,000 American troops would leave Bosnia by year's end, there is growing speculation that some portion of the NATO-led troops will have to stay. "Right now I'm not prepared to make that recommendation, and I think we will be as we go along," Smith said.
Says Peacekeeping Going Well
Smith said the military peacekeeping mission was going well in Bosniahe predicted flatly there would be no spring military offensives this yearand said the restoration of civilian programs was progressing. But he said Bosnians and Croatians face "an enormously difficult task" in preserving their federation, which NATO officials consider crucial to maintaining peace in Bosnia after NATO peacekeepers leave.
Perry Plans Withdrawal by Year's End
Defense Secretary William Perry said in a television interview from Bosnia Sunday that "we still plan to have our troops out of here by the end of the year." Smith said a key to making that decision will be whether the Bosnian elections scheduled for later this year can be conducted free of threats.
He said he was concerned about the 2.4 million displaced Bosnians, the refusal of some factions to release all prisoners and in particular the attitude and capability of the police in Bosnia. "If they don't get their act together, that is going to be a serious problem for the resettlement of the refugees," he said. "It is going to be a serious problem for the elections. And it's going to be an even more serious problem because one of the major, major issues on the horizon is crime."
Carl Bildt, who is coordinating international efforts to reconstruct war-shattered Bosnia, acknowledged in Washington Tuesday that there were serious problems but was cautiously optimistic about chances for success. In particular, Bildt said free and fair elections could not be held now and there is much work to be done to ensure that is reversed by late August or early September, when voting is planned.
Bildt also said at the National Press Club that he hoped the NATO peacekeeping force would not stay beyond the end of the year, because local leaders will not be forced to deal with problems in Bosnia until the peacekeepers leave.
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US Department of Defense The Pentagon's BosniaLINK Home Page
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