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Bosnia: Britain's Blair Meets Serb President

Banja Luka, 28 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair began a one-day visit to Bosnia today, holding talks in Banja Luka with Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic. Plavsic later said Blair had asked what kinds of political and financial help Britain could provide her. Plavsic has won western backing in her continuing standoff with Bosnian Serb hardliners based in Pale.

Plavsic said she assured Blair of her support for the Dayton peace accords. Blair made no comment following the talks at Banja Luka's airport, which recently reopened with British financial help.

Blair then visited a nearby British SFOR base to meet with British troops serving in the international stabilization force in Bosnia. He is due later to visit the Bosnian-Croat controlled town of Jajce before travelling on to Sarajevo for talks with the three members of Bosnia's collective presidency. He is also to meet in Sarajevo with top international officials, including international High Representative Carlos Westendorp.

Meanwhile in Sarajevo, NATO officials said today that the NATO-led peace force had completed its investigation of seven Ukrainian peacekeepers who were caught smuggling alcohol and cigarettes.

A NATO spokesman, Major Peter Clarke, said the Ukrainian government has accepted the evidence against the seven soldiers detained in connection with the incident and that they have been returned home for disciplinary action.

Last month, local police arrested the seven Ukrainians and 17 Bosnian Croats while they were unloading more than $620,000 worth of cigarettes and alcohol from two Ukrainian military trucks in the divided Bosnian city of Mostar. The seven Ukrainians included two lieutenant colonels -- the chief of staff of the Ukrainian peacekeeping brigade and an adviser to the brigade's commander.

NATO officials in Sarajevo refused to release the findings of the investigation, saying they should be released by Ukraine. Clarke said NATO is now considering measures to avoid repetition of similar incidents.