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Cohen Says Balkan Progress Encouraging, but U.S. Troops Stay

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

THESSALONIKI, Greece, Oct. 10, 2000 – The United States will help Yugoslavia introduce economic and political reforms, but the size of the U.S. troop commitment to the region will remain the same, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here Oct. 8.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Greek Minister of National Defense Apostolos-Athanasios Tsokhatzopoulos, Cohen placed U.S. strength at 10,000 troops in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He said the size and structure of U.S. forces will always be measured against the security environment.

"To the extent there continues to be progress made in stabilizing the region and peaceful democratic institutions are created and solidified, then we can look to ways in which we can reduce the size level of our presence," he said. All the countries providing troops would like to reduce their commitments, but recognize they can't until the security environment permits, he said.

"We need more time to make such an assessment," Cohen noted. Because of previous assessments, for instance, the United States reduced its forces in Bosnia substantially, he observed.

Officials traveling with Cohen said former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was forced from office after he had tried to steal his country's presidential elections Sept. 24. A popular uprising brought to power Vojislav Kostunica, the elected winner.

Kostunica, while a Serb nationalist, is regarded as a moderate. Cohen said the United States would cooperate with European and other allies to help him solidify democratic reforms in Yugoslavia.

Officials said now that Kostunica has assumed the duties of president some of the sanctions directed against Serbia will be dropped. They said, however, that sanctions related to alleged war criminals of the Bosnian conflict would not be dropped. Milosevic is an indicted war criminal.

"We expect he should be held accountable," Cohen said. "That accountability should take place in The Hague, (the Netherlands)."

Kostunica, however, has said he would not surrender Milosevic for trial. News reports imply Milosevic may be tried in Serbia for corruption, among other charges.

Milosevic's defeat clears the way for Kosovo to rejoin Yugoslavia as an autonomous area. Cohen said he is pleased with progress in Kosovo as far as the return of refugees and the rebuilding of their lives and homes, but added neither the United States nor NATO supports independence for the province. Defense officials said ethnic Albanian groups in Kosovo are pushing for independence and view the events in Belgrade as an opportunity.

"Great progress has been made in the last several years in promoting peace and stability in the Balkans," Cohen said. He said U.S. officials are encouraged the growing number of multiethnic groups cooperating in Bosnia. "We saw a multiethnic team under the Bosnian flag at the Olympic Games in Sydney," he said.

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