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Cohen Reiterates Bosnian Mission End Date

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 1997 – U.S. officials must focus on what to accomplish before the NATO Stabilization Force mission ends in Bosnia, said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Cohen, speaking en route to the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in Maastricht, Netherlands, Sept. 30, said the current SFOR mission will end as scheduled in June 1998.

"I hope what we can do is really focus on what can be done [in Bosnia] in the next nine months," he said. "I would say there has been quite a change in terms of the tempo of activities and in terms of the progress that has been made in the last few months. It would make it that much easier to complete our mission by June of '98."

Cohen's discussions with colleagues in Europe were scheduled to focus on preparations for when the stabilization force mission ends and what must be done for that to work. What happens after June 1998 will be discussed at a later date.

"The mission, according to NATO, is going to end in June," said Cohen. "The president has said that the United States, obviously, has a continuing interest in what happens in Europe. What role, if any, the United States plans to play, remains to be determined. Right now, everybody is planning on June of '98."

Cohen said he prefers a gradual course of change from a stabilization force to a deterrent force. "I think it is preferable in terms of going on a gliding slope rather than going to June and just dropping off," he said. He said he expects a decision will have to be made in the January-February time frame.

War criminals will not stand in the way of a timely exit from Bosnia, Cohen said. It is not NATO's mission to search for and arrest war criminals. "The mission is if war criminals come in their presence, if they are aware of them and the tactical situation permits, then they arrest them," he said.

Although the force's mission doesn't include searching for war criminals, the U.S. support of the Dayton accords forbids any support to them. "We are trying to do it in a positive way in terms of letting everyone know to the extent that the war criminals or those who are trying to undermine Dayton, they are not going to be supported by the United States or by the NATO allies," said Cohen.

He said interest in stability and peace in Bosnia continues. When Cohen meets with his counterparts, he will also stress Congress doesn't want a U.S. garrison force in Bosnia. Congress is writing legislation that will establish fairly rigorous procedures that the administration will have to go through before any question of the continued U.S. military involvement can be answered.

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