Balkan Tensions Persist, SACEUR Says
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 1999 Trouble in the Balkans may not be over, according to U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark. Four years after NATO forces first crossed the Sava River Bridge to enter the Balkans, NATO's supreme allied commander says regional tensions persist.
At a Dec. 9 Pentagon press conference, Clark highlighted growing tension in Montenegro and recapped NATO's progress to date in restoring stability in Bosnia and Kosovo. SFOR, NATO's stabilization force of 30,000, is deployed in Bosnia and KFOR, made up of 43,000 international forces, is deployed in Kosovo.
New trouble is brewing in nearby Montenegro, a pro-Western Yugoslav republic, south of Bosnia and west of Kosovo. In a move toward independence, the republic has taken steps to split from Serbia, Yugoslavia's larger republic.
Montengro's president, Milo Djukanovic, "is doing as much as he can do to democratize and westernize Montenegrin institutions," Clark said. "He is trying to better the lot of his people." Djukanovic has declared the deutsche mark as an alternative currency and taken other steps to help Montenegro develop its economy for the benefit of his people, Clark noted.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has responded with pressures, intimidation and most recently, with military action. The Serb leader sent armed troops to seize control of the Montenegro's main airport. Yugoslav military trucks blocked the runway at Podgorica, Dec. 8, and troops took over the control tower, banning all flights.
"The situation is very tense in Montenegro," Clark declared. The airport incident "certainly sent a message," and "is indicative of the tensions and potential instability in that region," he said.
"We are seeing a whole series of low-level but worrisome developments as we watch the pattern of Serb activities in this area," Clark added. ""We are watching this very closely. We don't pretend to know what Mr. Milosevic's final intent is."
"It's been made very clear to Mr. Milosevic that he should not, and must not, interfere in the Montenegrin processes," Clark said. The general would not discuss any NATO planning that may or may not have been done in response to these developments.
Switching to Bosnia, Clark said most of the military tasks have been done, but not sustained, and civil implementation tasks have not been completed. "The military can't do the civil implementation tasks," the commander noted, "but the civil tasks can't be done without the secure environment the military provides."
Clark described military stability in Bosnia as "good." The Dayton accord divided the country into two entities, the Serb-dominated Republic of Srpska and the Bosniak (Muslim)/Croat-popluated Federation. Armed forces from both entities are now working together in a more cooperative manner than ever before, Clark said. "They just agreed on a 15 percent reduction in their armed forces, and the initial reductions toward that have been taken," he noted.
"Remarkable progress" has been made in the area of minority refugee returns, Clark added. "We've had about 60,000 return this year. It's a 40 percent increase over where we were in the past."
Individual, spontaneous refugee returns are underway, Clark explained. Stabilization force troops serve as observers and people now feel secure enough to return to their homes and get on with normal life four years after the peace accord was signed. "This is a real indicator of progress," Clark said.
NATO forces have taken 28 war criminals under detention and more have surrendered. Police reforms have been made, but there are still public security problems. Elections have been held, but difficulties remain in some of the hard-line part connections with other states and other elements.
"Economic development and illegal institutions are two areas that are of the greatest concern right now," Clark pointed out. "The unemployment rate's over 40 percent... [Bosnia] need security, it needs investment, but it needs institutions and laws that will enable this investment and development to occur. That's underway, but it just hasn't happened as rapidly as we'd like it to."
About 60,000 international troops entered Bosnia after warring factions signed the Dayton peace accord in December 1995. Since then, NATO authorities have reduced the force to 30,000, and plan to go down to 20,000 by spring 2000. About 6,200 U.S. service members remain in Bosnia. This number is slated to drop to 3,900 by spring 2000.
The 30,000 international troops in Bosnia are assigned to three multinational divisions -- north, southwest and southeast. Their primary role is to maintain a secure environment, support refugee returns, conduct area security and presence missions, monitor entity armed forces compliance with the peace agreement, support war crimes tribunal investigations and monitor the borders with Yugoslavia.
On Kosovo, Clark responded to a reporter who asked if more intense raids early on in the bombing campaign would have made Milosevic 'cry uncle' sooner. "I believe that whenever we cross the threshold from diplomacy into the actual employment of military power that we should do so as decisively as politically feasible," the commander replied. "That's what we did in this case.
"Obviously, we were pressing to do more in the way of more effective, more widespread, more intense operations." He continued. "But we're an alliance of 19 nations. This was what the alliance agreed with, and ultimately it was the alliance cohesion which was perhaps the critical factor along with other elements in convincing Milosevic that he had not choice but to comply with NATO conditions."
Now that the fighting in Kosovo has stopped, and international stability forces are in place, Clark stressed that the United Nations now has a significant responsibility to "assume an increasing burden for the public security function." U.N. officials have called for several thousand more police than are present on the ground, he said. A police infrastructure with communications, vehicles and stations also is needed. "Step by step," Clark said, "this is being put in place."
The United Nations needs more resources, more programs and staff on the ground in Kosovo to do the job, Clark stressed. "This is the first line effort of the international community in dealing with the Kosovo problem."
Clark also responded to questions regarding the C-4 readiness ratings of two U.S. divisions, the 10th Mountain and the 1st Infantry Division. Both have elements deployed in the Balkans.
These units are accomplishing challenging missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, Clark said. "It's not a full war- fighting mission, but it's a very challenging mission under potentially hostile conditions, especially in Kosovo," he said.
"They're doing a very good job there," he continued. "They are also conducting a number of low-level exercises at crew level, squad level and individual level to maintain their war-fighting proficiency in other tasks that they're not routinely doing."
U.S. forces get a lot out of the peacekeeping missions, Clark added. They get small leadership and communications training. They get to exercise the intelligence, logistics and security systems. "By no means are these missions that don't have benefits that are directly related to combat requirements," he said.
When will U.S. forces pull out of the Balkans? Clark said NATO has moved away from a time-based exit strategy. "We believe we have to have a success-based exit strategy," he said. "It's best to recognize that this is a demanding mission. It's really a regional focus that we are interested in now."
In July, Clark said, regional heads of government met in Sarajevo and set up the Balkans Stability Pact. "We need economic development," he emphasized. "We need democratization and, above all, we need democratization in Serbia."