Munich, May 30 (RFE/RL) - After a long debate, Germany's government has publicly stated its belief that the international peace mission in Bosnia should end in December, regardless of the political situation. But an influential German newspaper says the peacekeeping force must stay to provide stability, and give time for moderate politicians to come forward.
Both Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Defence Minister Volker Ruehe declared after a lengthy meeting of the cabinet yesterday that Germany opposed any suggestion that European units of the NATO-led peace-implementation force, IFOR, should remain after U.S. forces withdraw at the end of the year.
In Kinkel's words: "Europe and the U.S. entered Bosnia together and they should leave together." Kinkel said he expected next week's meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin to support this view.
Defence Minister Ruehe said what Bosnia needed now was political cooperation, and there was little troops could do to foster this. At the same time, Ruehe said he agreed with those who said the international community must ensure that Bosnia "does not slip backwards into war and massacre."
The Government's views were contradicted today by the influential Munich newspaper "Suddeutsche Zeitung." Its lead editorial said the peace-implementation force must remain in Bosnia beyond December to ensure security, while a real peace develops.
"Only a longer period of quiet can offer an opportunity for tensions between the fronts to diminish, and allow moderate politicians - who certainly exist - to make their way to the front," it said. The newspaper argued that efforts to create a forum for such politicians were still in their infancy and more time was needed. It also argued that Bosnia's economy could not develop without the stability which would be provided by an extension of the mandate of the peace-implementation force.
The "Suddeutsche Zeitung" acknowledged the political difficulties in extending the mandate, particularly for the U.S., which, it said, was haunted by the failure of the U.S. peace-keeping mission in Somalia in 1993, and the images of dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. But it said that some way to keep the troops available should be found.
"If it is not possible for Bill Clinton to keep U.S. troops longer in Bosnia, other possibilities will have to be considered," it said. The newspaper raised the possibility of maintaining a reduced force in Bosnia, or of the Americans remaining close by in another country. It did not suggest any NATO country which might agree to maintain troops in or near Bosnia.
According to the "Suddeutsche Zeitung", some diplomats are already considering possible measures. It quoted an unidentified diplomat as saying: "We don't have to call this baby IFOR. The main thing is that it does the job."
Spokesmen at NATO headquarters in Brussels today declined to comment on the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" claim that some diplomats were talking about keeping troops available for Bosnia. But they recalled that Hungary's Defence Minister Gyoergy Keleti said this month (May 7) that some NATO countries had asked about a possible extended use of the military bases, which Hungary has made available to Bosnia mission. Keleti declined to say which NATO countries had raised the question.
The U.S. makes the most use of Hungary's proximity to Bosnia. It uses the Taszar air base in the south of the country as a staging post for U.S. forces on their way to Bosnia.
The U.S. has frequently confirmed that its 20,000 troops in Bosnia will be withdrawn by the end of the year, but some experts have suggested it might continue aerial reconnaissance from Taszar.
Germany's own contribution to the peace-implementation force consists of about 4,000 men, most of them from medical and transport units, although there are some combat troops. It is the fourth largest contingent after the U.S., Britain and France. German Tornado aircraft also fly regular missions over Bosnia and have taken many of the aerial photographs of mass graves in Bosnia.
Sending troops was a major political decision for the Bonn government. It is the first time post-war Germany has sent troops to a region that had been occupied by German troops in World War Two.