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SACEUR Says Hard Work Ahead in Bosnia

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

LONDON, April 8, 1998 – Peace implementation forces in Bosnia have made significant progress, but there's still hard work ahead, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe said here April 2.

"Many among the former warring factions have yet to give up their wartime aims," said U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark. Some of the "criminal leadership" are still waiting in the wings for the peacekeepers' first misstep, he said.

Speaking before about 300 members of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Clark highlighted NATO's progress and stressed the need for continued multinational effort.

Over two years into the mission, Clark said, progress is clear: Hostilities have ended and the former warring factions have been separated. About 300,000 men are no longer armed, and arms control is progressing well. Joint governing institutions are beginning to take hold. Three sets of elections have shown the potential for pluralism and replacement of wartime parties.

"In fact," Clark said, "there is a new government in Srpska today that appears fully committed to implementing the Dayton agreement."

Over 160,000 displaced persons and 175,000 refugees have returned, he continued. "We've made progress on refugee returns, but the yearning to return remains unfulfilled for hundreds of thousands of others. There are still over a million Bosnian refugees in host countries."

Although the economy is improving, it is still at a fraction of pre-war levels, Clark noted. Airports, rail lines, river ports are beginning to open. Media restructuring is under way. By mid- April, 100 percent of the police in both the Bosnian Federation and Srpska will have been through initial certification training by the U.N. International Police Task Force.

More than a third of those indicted for war crimes are in The Hague, Netherlands, Clark said. "While SFOR troops have bravely brought in those persons indicted for war crimes they've encountered, and there is a trickle of other surrenders, considerable work remains to be done in bringing to justice those who committed the most horrific of the crimes."

As a result, NATO officials have decided to remain in Bosnia a little longer, Clark said. Stabilization forces will stay beyond the June deadline initially set for the mission.

"It now comes to the details of planning the [follow-on] force and its headquarters and making the national commitments to meet the planned requirements," he said. "This is no easy burden, especially for European allies who are entering their seventh year of commitment in this troubled region."

There is no timetable for ending the mission, Clark said, nor should there be. NATO's success must be measured against results, not by the calendar.

"The real challenge now is to move ahead with civil implementation," Clark said. "Instead of conducting a classic military campaign against opposing armed forces, we've got to use our robust military capabilities to reinforce and facilitate a political diplomatic, economic strategy that leads to self- sustaining peace."

The work ahead includes supporting civilian organizations as they establish democratic laws and institutions. It means ensuring elected governments are functioning as designed and police forces are working for the people instead of for ethnic, separatist, political parties. It also means promoting refugee returns and re-establishing a viable local economy.

"For the men and women of SFOR," Clark said, "it will mean developing an even finer ability to discriminate between persuasion and force, between assisting and doing, between presence and action, and choosing exactly the right response in each situation."

A recent episode in Kiseljak demonstrates the thin line stabilization forces walk between "assisting and doing." A German battalion commander and his troops saw politically offensive posters while patrolling a town hosting returning refugees, Clark said.

"They didn't take these posters down, but they did report them to civilian members of the international community and others who could bring the appropriate political pressure to bear on the parties to remove the posters," the general said.

This next phase of the peace mission will require even closer coordination with international institutions and civil organizations responsible for civil implementation, Clark said. "This is a very difficult stage for us, because we can't do this job ourselves, but they can't do it without us.

"Our forces are not nation builders," the NATO chief said. "Our forces are military forces. These are young men and women who signed up to come in and serve their country. They work in squads and platoons. They're not policemen. They're not social workers. They're not traffic policemen or road construction engineers. We just do our military duties."

But as refugees return and civil governments are put in place, Clark said, the troops represent the will of the international community. "The challenge for the troops is how they represent that on the ground."

Operations in Bosnia place "enormous responsibility on the tactical judgments, instinct, good sense and overall situation awareness of leaders at every echelon, and particularly the lower echelons of the chain of command," Clark said. "They've got to deal with situations as they see it."

He noted stabilization forces will have to keep up their guard over the prolonged deployment. "Ironically," he said, "the closer we approach our final aims, the greater the resistance to final implementation could become."

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