Clinton Says Bosnia Deadline Firm
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 31, 1997 While the June 1998 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Bosnia remains firm, President Clinto said, European officials must speed up reconstruction efforts.
Civil reconstruction is not on schedule, Clinton said in London May 29, during his first official visit with newly elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "A lot of the elements of the Dayton peace process are not going as fast as they should," he said. The two leaders discussed progress in the Balkan country during their meeting.
Training and placing local police is one example where progress is lacking, Clinton said. Stabilization forces are escorting and protecting returning refugees. "A lot of that could be done by civilian police if we were on schedule," he said.
Queried by British reporters on whether U.S. troops will leave as scheduled, Clinton replied: "I don't think we ought to be talking about how we're going to leave; I think we ought to be talking about what we're going to do tomorrow and next week and next month."
Much work is needed over the next 13 months to allow the Dayton peace accords to move forward, Clinton said. "If we work like crazy the next 13 months, do I believe we can fulfill our mission and they can go forward? Yes, I do. But I think we're going to have to make some very tough decisions."
Clinton said U.S. and European leaders have reviewed the situation and now are putting a team together to get reconstruction moving. In the meantime, stabilization forces continue their mission of providing a secure, stable environment so reconstruction can proceed.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, reinforced Clinton's commitment to the June 1998 deadline. "The military has done its job," Cohen said to reporters at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., May 29. Peace has been sustained and warfare ended between the Bosnian groups, he said.
As a result of the NATO forces' commitment and sacrifice, Cohen said, the people of that region have had "three successive springs of no slaughter, no ethnic conflict, houses not being bombed, Sniper's Alley being quiet and children not being targeted."
But the other half of the equation hasn't measured up, Cohen said. "We haven't seen the flow of capital going into the region ... . We have not seen the formation of an international police force that can help in carrying out the mission of resettling the refugees and help to monitor the elections coming up in September."
NATO said the stabilization force mission will end in June 1998, Cohen said, adding there is strong support in Congress for withdrawing at that time. "I think Congress will insist that we try to focus our energies in the next year upon completing the Dayton accord so we can leave when the mission ends and know we've been successful," he said.
By the end of next year, Cohen said, the United States will have spent more than $6 billion on operations in Bosnia. "I believe those kind of resources have to be devoted to other matters, particularly our modernization program," he said.