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Clinton, Cohen Meet with Bosnian President

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 1997 – President Clinton reaffirmed his commitment to withdrawing U.S. troops from Bosnia by July 1998 -- just before he met with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic on March 26.

"We all understood we couldn't have an international security presence in a country forever," Clinton said prior to the White House meeting. About 31,000 international troops, including 8,500 Americans, are in Bosnia as a stabilization force. U.S. and NATO officials are committed to withdrawing in July 1998, 2 1/2 years after the peace implementation operation began, according to DoD officials.

Rather than speculate about the scheduled withdrawal, people should focus on what needs to be done between now and July 1998 to implement the civil side of the Dayton agreement, Clinton said.

"There is a lot of very specific work to be done that, if done right, will make it possible for the nation to succeed and for the people to be brought back into a more constructive cooperation and existence when we're gone," he said. "But I think it's important not to lose sight of what has been done and not to lose sight of the fact that there will be an international security presence there for quite some time yet."

Izetbegovic met U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen March 24 at the Pentagon. At that time, Cohen called the military mission in Bosnia successful and said it's time "to focus on making the civilian side of that equation equally successful."

The secretary said he saw marked signs of improvement during a recent trip to Bosnia. "I saw factories that were starting up. I saw fields that were being plowed and I saw farmers going back to till the land," he said.

Izetbegovic told Cohen peace can not be ensured until indicted war criminals are apprehended and sent to the international war crimes tribunal. He also called upon the United States to accelerate its equip and train program for the Bosnian military, which he said has been implemented 20 percent to date.

Civil reconstruction in Bosnia is going slowly, Izetbegovic said during his White House stop. "We know that it is primarily our job," he said, but added his country will need help.

Bosnia will be ready to exist on its own, Izetbegovic said, if certain developments occur: civil reconstruction is implemented; the U.S. equip-and-train program is implemented; disarmament protocol is established; and Bosnia becomes a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. Then, "I believe that SFOR forces, or foreign forces, can leave Bosnia without big problems," he said.

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