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NATO Chief Says Bosnia Mission Still Vital

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2000, Feb. 8, 2000 – NATO's stabilization force remains vital to continuing stability in Bosnia, according to NATO's top European commander.

Most of the military work is done, but much more civil restructuring is needed, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee here in early February.

SFOR's size has gone down as civil efforts have gone up, the commander noted. What began as a peacekeeping force of 60,000 in 1996, will be down to about 20,000 personnel by April. The U.S. contingent of about 20,000 at its peak will drop to 3,900 Americans by this spring.

NATO authorities and international officials are now focused on media reform, setting up a multi-ethnic police force, demilitarizing the Bricko area and continuing efforts to arrest indicted war criminals. "It's true," Clark said, "some of the biggest offenders -- people that we would love to encounter and detain -- we have not. But, steadily, bit by bit, person by person, thug by thug, they're being taken to the Hague."

Officials also are continuing efforts to provide stability and security for displaced persons and returning refugees. Clark said the return process helps preclude an outbreak of more fighting, discredits hardliners and advances the international community goals.

"Last year we had unprecedented success -- some 70,000 minority persons returned to their homes, most of them spontaneously," Clark said. Much of this success can be attributed to SFOR's efforts in providing a secure environment, he added.

"Our soldiers and their commanders brought together the various participating members of the international community. They dealt with refugee groups and they provided a focal point where return efforts could be spontaneously coordinated."

Further progress in civilian implementation, he concluded, "depends vitally on the continued presence and support of the stabilization force."

Commenting on U.S service members deployed in both Bosnia and Kosovo, Clark told the Congress members: "They're doing a brilliant job there. They're doing everything that's asked of them. They're doing it with imagination and courage and determination, and I think all Americans can by very, very proud of the work of these young men and women there."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSupreme Allied Commander Europe U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who also commands U.S. European Command, takes reporters' questions on the status of the NATO-led, international peacekeeping operation in Bosnia during a Pentagon briefing. DoD photo by R.D. Ward.  
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