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Bosnia: Defense Ministers To Discuss New Peacekeeping Force

Munich, 18 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The German Defense Ministry said today NATO will discuss a new peacekeeping force for Bosnia at a meeting of the alliance defense ministers in Norway next week.

A ministry spokesman said Russia's Defense Minister Igor Rodionov is expected to participate in the discussions in the Norwegian town of Bergen..

"Obviously no decisions will be taken at this meeting," the spokesman said. "That is a matter for heads of government. But the defense ministers will consider the size of a possible new peacekeeping force, its duties and, of course, how long it might stay in Bosnia."

Their recommendations will be considered by the NATO general assembly which meets in Brussels on October 7-8. Russia's security advisor, Alexander Lebed, is expected to attend the assembly meeting.

The mandate of the present international peacekeeping force expires in December. President Clinton has said U.S. forces will begin to withdraw on December 21.

But discussions have already begun on the creation of a new unit to enforce the peace while Bosnia's new parliament and political institutions settle in. Unidentified senior NATO officials have been quoted as saying a new peacekeeping force should remain for around two years to hinder a new outbreak of ethnic warfare.

Germany's Defense Minister Volker Ruehe has said several times that Germany is ready to participate in such a force with a much stronger role than it has in the present peacekeeping force. Most of the present German force of 2,600 men are in transport and medical units.

The Defense Ministry spokesman said Ruehe envisages Germany providing combat-ready infantry and armored vehicles for a new force and possibly holding a high position in the overall military command.

European governments have said they will provide ground forces only if the United States participates.

The German Defense Ministry said its experts believe a new peacekeeping force should be limited to about 20,000 soldiers instead of the present 60,000. The spokesman said European countries differed on how long it should stay, but most believed it should be between 12 months to two years.