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Peace Grows in Bosnia; Violence in Kosovo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 26, 1998 – While peace thrives in Bosnia, growing violence in Kosovo presents a tough challenge, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said last week in Washington.

NATO's supreme allied commander Europe and head of the U.S. European Command talked with reporters May 21 at the Pentagon about NATO's peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and the escalating crisis in Kosovo.

Overall, Clark said, NATO-led stabilization forces have made "remarkable progress" in Bosnia during the last year. They separated warring factions, demobilized armies and stored weapons. Civilian officials held national and local elections and refugees are returning home. "The rule of law is taking hold in that country," Clark said.

The Republic of Srpska, in particular, under the new leadership of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, has taken important steps toward aligning its government more closely with the West, Clark said. "That in itself is an enormous step forward."

The peace implementation mission aims at achieving specific results rather than setting a time limit, he said. This new policy is having a positive impact.

"Those who believed they could sit on the sidelines and wait out the deployment have recognized that's no longer an option," Clark said. "They've got to get with the program and follow through on the obligations they undertook at Dayton."

To ensure reconstruction continues, NATO's 39-nation peacekeeping force will remain in Bosnia indefinitely, the NATO commander said. The follow-on force will remain at its current strength of about 35,000 until after the September elections. Beyond that time, officials will conduct six-month assessments of the security situation before any troop reductions, he said.

New multinational specialized units, operating as part of the stabilization force, will help local police and the International Police Task Force maintain control when needed. An Italian carabinieri battalion and an Argentine gendarmerie battalion are slated to serve the first six-month rotation. Several other countries are also considering providing troops.

These specialized units are not intended to replace local police or take away their responsibility to provide law and order, Clark said. Noting they are not a law enforcement agency, and have no specific role in the capture of war criminals, he said, the new units will be deployed whenever necessary to help deal with riot control.

The stabilization force mandate regarding war criminals will also remain the same, Clark said. If NATO-led troops encounter war criminals, the troops will detain them and turn them over to civilian authorities.

"We've proved that we will do that, and the consequence has been that the activities of the war criminals have been greatly restricted," he said. "I have information that indicates a number of them no longer stay in Bosnia. They've had to give up their previous activities there and seek refuge elsewhere. This is an indicator that the policy is indeed working."

About 6,900 of the 8,500 American troops now supporting Bosnia operations will remain after the current mandate ends in June, Clark said. More than 20,000 U.S. troops deployed when the mission started two years ago, Clark noted.

"We're continuing to see reduction and, therefore, proportionate decrease in the burden it puts on the armed forces," he said. As part of an effort to spread the mission load beyond U.S. units in Europe, units of the 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas, will replace those of the 1st Armored Division in Bosnia this fall.

Although American troops in Bosnia frequently grumble about being restricted to base and other protective measures, Clark said, the security situation warrants the restrictions. "The rule that's in place right now is the rule that makes the best sense," he remarked.

While NATO officials are heartened by progress in Bosnia, Clark said, they are deeply concerned about Kosovo. "We've been very disappointed to see the repression by the Serb ministerial police there, and we're also concerned about the growing propensity to violence and the reported influx of weaponry into Kosovo from outside."

Ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population in Kosovo, once an autonomous province in southern Yugoslavia, now Serbia. In 1989, Serb authorities took away their autonomy and since then, Clark said, Kosovars have waited to regain their rights.

Violence in the region has escalated as Serb police clash with Kosovo Liberation Army. So far, the crisis has not spilled over into Bosnia, and NATO authorities are taking steps to help prevent that from happening.

In a separate May 21 appearance in Washington, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe said the United States and European allies are united in applying diplomatic and economic pressures and seek a political solution in Kosovo.

"We have indicated in the past that we support greater autonomy for the Kosovars, and we also encouraged Mr. Milosevic to exercise greater restraint," Cohen said. No options have been ruled out, he added.

Ruehe said allied options include a no-fly zone over Kosovo and sending observers to the troubled province. Germany and other NATO and individual nations are helping beef up border security in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. A U.N. force of about 750 U.S. and Nordic troops already patrol FYROM's border with Serbia and Albania. The mission, slated to end in August, is under U.N. review.

Clark said a NATO team inspected Albania's border area and called it challenging for anyone trying to move supplies into Kosovo. "The terrain is extremely difficult. It's an underdeveloped area, so the kinds of host-nation support that we're used to relying on probably wouldn't be there," he explained.

"The real problem is not at the border between Kosovo and Albania. There is no danger of Albania being attacked," Ruehe said. "The real problem is in Kosovo -- the dictatorship, police state and lack of autonomy."

Clark said recent talks between Serb President Slobodan Milosevic and Kosovo's Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova are a hopeful sign. "We have to take and nurture that now and seek a solution to this potentially terrible problem through dialogue and negotiation," he said.

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