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Successful Bosnian Elections Mean 600 Come Home

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1998 – The U.S. contingent in Bosnia will soon shrink by about 600, but it's too early to say what NATO will do now that Bosnian elections are over, U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said during his recent trip to Europe.

Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, was a stop on Cohen's seven- day, late September itinerary. While there, he spoke to U.S. service members and met with U.N. and other military and civilian officials.

During the past several months, the U.S. contingent had increased to about 7,500 to provide added security at 2,300 polling sites during Bosnia's mid-September elections. The force will be cut to roughly 6,900 by mid-November or early December, Cohen said.

The NATO-led stabilization force includes 28,000 other troops from 36 nations. U.S. and NATO authorities currently are reviewing the Bosnian situation to determine if other force cuts are advisable. Cohen said a decision is due in December.

"I would suggest that we wait until that review is conducted to see exactly where we are on the benchmarks and then make a determination as to whether or not there can be a gradual reduction of forces," he said.

When the second U.N. mandate for the Bosnia mission ended this summer, NATO authorities set benchmarks to measure the mission status and progress toward lasting peace rather than set an end date.

Cohen said there's room for further troop cuts, given that the recent elections were conducted successfully and a number of moderates were elected. International officials said more than 70 percent of the population voted.

"The recent elections were free and fair," Cohen said. "Voters went to the polls with almost no security incidents." He said the United States will work with all the newly elected officials "as long as they support the Dayton accords and do so not only with their words but also by their deeds."

During his visit, Cohen toured a recently demined Jewish cemetery in the hills above Sarajevo that had been a Serb artillery site used to shell the city. Freshly dug holes indicated where the Serbs had strewn mines. NATO officials repeatedly warned the Cohen entourage, photographers and reporters to stay on paved areas, because no demining operation guarantees 100 percent safety.

Cohen also saw a demonstration by the newest addition to the NATO-led stabilization force, the Multinational Specialized Unit. The 350 Italian police officers who currently make up the force are trained to deal with civil disorder. They demonstrated crowd control and displayed equipment for the secretary and his party. Romanian and Slovenian platoons and an Argentine company are slated to join the unit.

"This is one example of our efforts to move beyond military stabilization to civil rehabilitation," Cohen said, after watching the display. "As we prepare to complete NATO's six-month review in December, we will be looking for other ways to substitute civilian institutions for military force."

Although economic energy and cultural creativity have returned to Sarajevo, the capital is not yet the cosmopolitan, multiethnic city it once was, Cohen noted. "We need more progress on refugee returns and reconciliation," he said.

Accelerating civil implementation is the challenge, Cohen said. "The parties must do more to cooperate on minority returns, to end corruption, to build a multiethnic police force, to provide security to all Bosnians.

"SFOR and the other institutions have sown the seeds of peace and prosperity in Bosnia," the secretary said, "and now those seeds must be cultivated and harvested by the Bosnians themselves."

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