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Bosnia Mission Enters Third Year

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Dec. 10, 1997 – Two years after the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division rolled across the Sava River from Hungary, NATO peacekeeping forces are still in Bosnia.

A year after entering Bosnia, the 60,000-strong implementation force drew down to a 35,000-member stabilization force. Today, the 32,500 troops in the theater include about 8,000 Americans in Bosnia and another 3,000 supporting the mission from Croatia, Italy and Hungary.

The mandate for the 18-month stabilization mission is scheduled to end in June, and NATO allies agree a follow-on force is necessary. NATO military authorities are studying options ranging from having no troops in Bosnia to deploying a force equal to what's now in place.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen in-part cancelled a trip to the Middle East, Dec. 9, to stay in Washington to help President Clinton decide on U.S. participation in a follow-on force.

The role American troops will play in a poststabilization force mission remains undecided. "President Clinton has made no decision on U.S. participation after June 1998," William S. Cohen told European allies here Dec. 2.

The U.S. defense secretary said the United States shares an interest in continuing stability and peace in Bosnia, but has made no decision on how it will participate -- "be it diplomatic economic or militarily."

Cohen said alliance officials agree NATO peacekeeping forces, along with troops from Russia and other nonmember nations, have done an outstanding job. "The killing has been stopped for two years; children are back in school; farmers are harvesting their crops; and workers are returning to their factories," he said.

But despite NATO's accomplishments, NATO officials say there is more to be done. George Robertson, British secretary of state for defence, said the allies want to ensure the Dayton agreement is carried out and that peace, sense and decency return to Bosnia.

"No one wants to see the progress that's been made diminish or be destroyed," Robertson said in London Dec. 4 after returning from NATO meetings here. "The Dayton accord was a triumph of American diplomacy. It's provided the foundation for a moment of peace during which the Bosnian people can start to determine their own future."

Since the mission began, NATO forces have carried out military duties outlined in the Dayton accord:

  • They separated warring parties and expelled foreign forces, allowing more than 300,000 troops to return to civilian life.
  • They destroyed nearly 5,000 heavy weapons including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery. About 1,100 mines are lifted and destroyed each week under stabilization force supervision.
  • They helped ensure a safe return for the more than 350,000 refugees of the nearly 2 million people displaced by the war.
  • They helped local officials hold municipal and national elections.
  • Although many of the 78 indicted war criminals are still at large, 20 are now in custody of the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. More than half have been brought to justice since April 1997. Three are dead.
  • In July, Stabilization Force troops detained and turned over Milan Kovacevic, a Bosnian Serb indicted for war crimes. Most of the alleged war criminals still at large are in the Republic of Srbska, which is not cooperating with the tribunal, DoD officials said.
  • NATO stabilization troops seized four Serb radio and TV stations to stop the broadcast of threats against the NATO force. State-controlled broadcasters are subject to oversight by the Office of the High Representative and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The international community is providing funding for independent broadcasters and newspapers.
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