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Press Review: Extending NATO's Bosnia Mission

  • Don Hill



Prague, June 11 (RFE/RL) -- The unspoken notion that NATO will not be ready to pull out of Bosnia by U.S. President Bill Clinton's deadline of next December has been spoken -- by the U.S. commander. Western commentators discuss Bosnia and NATO.

On Bosnia, The Wall Street Journal Europe says today in an editorial: "Diplomats currently in charge of spinning the mess in Bosnia will convene in Florence Thursday and Friday for a mid-term assessment, it being six months into the year they gave themselves to bring peace to the Balkans in last December's Dayton agreement. The script calls for congratulations on progress so far, and a proclamation that Bosnian democracy will dawn as scheduled (with elections) next September.... The plain fact is that the implementation of Dayton is well into the process of drawing up Balkan ministates on the principle of ethnic cleansing, legitimizing the rule of war criminials over the Serbian part of Bosnia, and setting the stage for further bloodshed if NATO peacekeepers are withdrawn as scheduled at year's end.... The lesson of the Balkans is that the United States is involved throughout the world, whether it likes it or not. It needs to learn... to intervene with more skill and understanding."

In Germany's Die Welt today, Lothar Ruehl writes: "The best-kept public secret of Western policy in Bosnia has been aired officially -- U.S. and other Nato troops will remain in Bosnia-Herzegovina beyond December 20 to secure the peace in what is still a critical situation.... However, U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, the military man who announced the U-turn, which has been impending for weeks..., will have handed over his command before then. This is an unforeseen withdrawal the reasons for which lie in a personal disagreement between the supreme allied commander in Europe, American General George Joulwan, but probably also in differences of interpretation on how to carry out the IFOR mission. Since the start of the peace implementation, the admiral has made painstakingly sure that IFOR does not go beyond its military mission as laid down by the Dayton agreement, never mind being drawn into the role of a policing force. He is also the leading IFOR man who refused to have IFOR troops search for suspected war criminals, above all (Bosnian Serb leader) Radovan Karadzic and (his military commander) Ratko Mladic, and arrest them and he is also the man who defends this stance in face of pressure from Brussels."

Rick Atkinson writes from Berlin today in The Washington Post: "Despite earlier vows that NATO's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia would end this year, a consensus is growing among senior NATO officials that a substantial NATO-led follow-on force porbably will patrol the former Yugoslavia well into 1997, according to alliance officials and Western diplomats.... NATO sources cautioned that no firm decisions on extending the Bosnia operation are expected until after the Bosnian elections, tentatively scheduled for mid-September.... Discussions among Western capitals about an extended operation have remained informal and muted, reportedly to avoid stirring a controversy during the U.S. presidential campaign. The size, configuration and precise mission of a follow-on force in Bosnia remain undecided."

The Chicago Tribune said in an editorial distributed yesterday by the Knight-Ridder newspapers group: "NATO foreign ministers have agreed to a potentially historic restructuring that would allow European members of the 16-nation alliance to undertake their own military operations and, therefore, assume a greater role in defense of their continent. Anybody here order a NATO Lite? (Eds note: "Lite" refers to an especially weak-tasting type of American beer) ...Secretary of State Warren Christopher inadvertently flagged both the strengths and the weaknesses of a new NATO Lite when he said the arrangements create an alliance 'in which the Europeans can take greater responsibility if they want to.' A decision on whether 'they want to' can be expected in December, when U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out of a Bosnia that is far from a civil, pacified state. If the Europeans believe that only continued NATO policing will prolong a fragile peace, then perhaps a European-only force, NATO Lite, will remain past the deadline set by the Dayton accords."

"The United States and its NATO allies overreached in expecting a quick fix for Bosnia," the Los Angeles Times editorialized Sunday. The editorial went on: "The NATO troops were deployed solely to separate Bosnia's Muslim, Serb and Croatian armies while the politicians worked on the modalities of a new government.... But the optimism of December and January has given way to bitterness and distrust. This war was too cruel. Demands for justice and vengeance have overwhelmed the efforts of diplomats and politicians to establish a government for the bloodied country by September.... Election of even a weak government, which Bosnia's is bound to be, is the path to take. It's the proper starting point. Clinton says he'll withdraw the 19,000 U.S. troops from Bosnia on schedule, in January. America's European allies have made clear their intention to follow suit. 'If you go, we go,' their diplomats insist to Washington. Bosnia needs to take a step forward with elections. Peace should not wait for vengeance."

Chris Hedges writes in yesterday's New York Times: "Croatian police announced Sunday the arrest of a Bosnian Croat charged by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague with the murder and mistreatment of Muslim prisoners. (He) is one of six Bosnian Croats accused by the tribunal of killing Muslims in the central Lasva valley of Bosnia three years ago. Four of the men indicted with him are living openly in Croatia, foreign diplomats say. One is under house arrest in The Hague. The Croatian government has been reluctant to arrest Croats indicted by the tribunal, despite repeated pressure from Washington and its European neighbors.... The Serbian government in Belgrade has refused to permit the extradition of Serbs charged with war crimes. It has questioned the tribunal's aims and permitted Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, who been indicted, to make public visits to Belgrade."
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