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Will NATO Stay in Bosnia?
Answer Becoming Crucial

Lasting peace without NATO is doubtful

NATO (Brussels, March 13—Reuters) NATO, pushed to widen its role in Bosnia, is now coming under pressure to make clear what sort of force will stay in the country at the end of this year when its peace mandate formally ends. "No one wants to discuss post I-FOR (Implementation Force), but everyone knows something has to be done," said one alliance military source.

Carl Bildt, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia, is concerned a failure to state clearly what will happen next December is undermining his mission to set up genuine political and civil structures. Under the Dayton peace accords, which ended Bosnia's 3½-year war, NATO's 60,000-strong force has been given the task of creating a secure environment to allow Serbs, Croats and Muslims to implement the rest of the accord. While the military side of the deal has been a success, a failure to make much progress on the political side has rung alarm bells in many capitals, desperate to make Dayton work but also to avoid getting stuck in the Balkans for years.

Bildt, who has written to NATO with a wish-list of tasks he wants the military to help him with, is expected to raise the issue on Wednesday at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the alliance's policy-making body, diplomats said. Most of the extra duties, such as making transport available and undertaking more engineering projects, NATO will have little difficulty allowing its military to do. But Bildt has also asked for help in organizing and providing security for elections which are now unlikely to happen before late-summer at the earliest.

NATO's military planners say this means original plans to start bringing out the force in June would have to be shelved and would increase the possibility of the departure date having to slip for operational reasons. "That issue, combined with what comes after I-FOR, is by far the trickiest," said one independent analyst. NATO countries formally deny any suggestion NATO or any other sort of force will stay, arguing the political leaders must be made to realise they only have a limited "window of opportunity" to make peace a reality.

"We went in together, we come out together," NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told Reuterss last week. Bildt also said he believed the mission would end on time, but diplomats say it could simply be renamed and mandated. "Bildt will get a very frosty reception if he pushes on this. NATO will not be blackmailed, but of course everyone knows something will have to remain," said one diplomatic source.

Alliance diplomats and independent analysts warn the issue is politically explosive and could see old disputes between the allies coming back to haunt them. For electoral reasons, President Bill Clinton must stick to the timetable he gave the American people for "bringing the boys back home."

"The Europeans will not stay without the Americans, we're not going back to those days of us having a ground force while they urge tough action and we face hostage crises," said a senior European envoy.

The U.S. refusal to envisage a ground force in the United Nations operation while at the same time espousing tough action is seen by many analysts as one of the central reasons for the failure to stop the carnage in Bosnia earlier. "The failure in Bosnia was a failure of the international community, when the U.S. and the Europeans work together then we make progress and things happen,'' Bildt told Reuterss last week.

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