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NATO Encouraged, But Cautious, Over Balkan Situation

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 8, 2000 – NATO officials expressed guarded optimism about the situation in the Balkans during a North Atlantic Council meeting here, Dec. 5.

The picture in Bosnia is stable, but our presence is essential to ensure it remains that way, said a NATO official during a background briefing on the meeting.

He said all the NATO defense ministers expressed satisfaction over the recent trend toward democracy in Yugoslavia. Serb President Vladimir Kostunicas public statements seem to show that Yugoslavia is turning away from the violence and ethnic cleansing that were the trademarks of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

NATO has been in Bosnia for five years. Peace is secure in Bosnia, the official said. But that only continues because of NATOs presence. He said officials were disappointed Bosnia cannot fend for itself a bit more, especially economically, politically and socially. He said Bosnia must develop the will to become a self-sustaining country and take its place in the new Europe.

Yugoslavia is due to hold elections Dec. 23. Until the results of those elections are known, it is impossible to determine how many NATO troops are needed in Bosnia. The official said NATO would look at the situation in January and decide if fewer troops will do. Until then, NATO is going to be cautious. He said NATO might restructure the forces even if it does not drop the total number of troops.

In Kosovo, he said, NATO is making rapid progress. While acts of violence continue there, the overall rate is down. Still, NATO again cannot reduce its presence in the area.

He said officials are most encouraged by the Kosovo Police Service. Every month a new class of local police graduates, he said. It is multiethnic [and is] more gender mixed. They are exactly the kind of people we need more of. [They are] looking to the future.

They are people who want to overcome ethnic hatred, rather than indulge in it, he concluded.

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