Bucharest, 13 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana pledged today that the military alliance will not abandon Bosnia when the mandate of the current NATO-led peacekeeping force expires next year. The alliance has a June 1998 deadline for withdrawing from Bosnia but no decision has been made on replacing the 36,000-member stabilization force (SFOR).
Speaking in Bucharest before a session of the North Atlantic Assembly (NAA), Solana said abandoning Bosnia would be against NATO's interests as well as a "tragic mistake."
The Assembly, NATO's parliamentary institution, opened its Autumn session last week in Bucharest - the first time the Assembly has convened in a former Warsaw Pact country. The Assembly's Secretary General, Simon Lunn, said the choice of Romania as the site of the meeting is clear recognition of the country's progress toward democracy and Bucharest's will to be admitted into NATO.
German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe says Germans support proposals for a new international peacekeeping force in Bosnia after the mandate of the present force expires in June next year.
In an interview with the German news magazine "Der Spiegel," Ruehe said an international force was still required in Bosnia to prevent the outbreak of fighting. He said the force could be small, highly mobile and concentrated in likely trouble spots.
Ruehe suggested that some units of the force could be stationed outside Bosnia -- possibly in Hungary and Italy.
A defense ministry spokesman said today that unofficial discussions were under way in the international community about maintaining a force in Bosnia but no decisions had been made.
On another matter, Solana said the costs of NATO's planned eastward expansion will be known by the end of the year. But he said they will be minor compared with the advantages of admitting new members. Solana said the costs will be "manageable and will be shared fairly."