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Western Press Review: Debate Intensifies On International Presence In Bosnia

Prague, 18 December 1997(RFE/RL) -- The role and timing of the international presence in Bosnia has inspired debate this week in the United States and Europe, and a spectrum of commentary and analysis today in the Western press.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Clinton's decision ends the uncertainty that has surrounded the future of the Bosnia mission

Staff writers Tyler Marshall and Elizabeth Shogren of the Los Angeles Times analyze reports that U.S. President Bill Clinton will announce today an extension of U.S. forces in Bosnia. They write: "Clinton's announcement will come just three days before he travels to Bosnia-Herzegovina to thank the 8,000 U.S. soldiers stationed there for their sacrifices in maintaining peace in the region. NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, earlier this week ordered military planners to work on details for extending the Bosnia mission." The analysis continues: "Following that and other hints of an extended mission from senior members of the administration, Clinton's decision hardly is a surprise. But it ends the uncertainty that has surrounded the future of the Bosnia mission and eases worries in Europe of a U.S. withdrawal. So deep has U.S. involvement grown in Bosnia that a U.S. pullout effectively would have destroyed the peace mission."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The departure of troops would be tragically premature

The British daily Financial Times says in an editorial that the U.S. decision is imperative. The newspaper says: "Mr. Clinton is believed to have come round to the view, long held by his European allies, that it would be wrong not to leave some international troops there after the mandate of the present NATO-led force expires; and he knows that the Europeans are determined not to be left there by themselves, with U.S. forces only in the air, as in the unhappy days of the UN protection force. But he also knows U.S. legislators have no sympathy for this attitude, and that their patience with the whole operation is wearing thin."

The Financial Times concludes: "Bosnia is not Cyprus, where UN forces man a green line keeping two communities completely apart. It is a country disfigured by terrible violence, whose people are slowly gaining confidence to resume normal contacts thanks to the presence of an international authority backed by a visible military force. The military element can be reduced next year, and should be reconfigured to give more direct support to the unarmed international police task force. Its departure would be tragically premature."

WASHINGTON POST: This is no time to change course

In a commentary in The Washington Post today, U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphatically supports continuing U.S. ground forces in Bosnia. Biden is of the same political party as the president. He writes: "With NATO's mandate in Bosnia set to expire next June, the Clinton administration is cautiously considering a continued U.S. military presence there. This is no time to change course. The United States should maintain its leadership role in Bosnia. Putting Bosnia back on its political and economic feet is squarely in the American national interest. And it is do-able."

The senator says: "For progress to continue, an international military force must provide security for several more years. The United States should retain command of that force and contribute ground troops to it." He concludes his commentary: "No one should underestimate the difficulty of the task ahead in Bosnia, but for the first time we can see progress. I am confident that the administration and Congress will choose to stay the course in Bosnia. The alternative is calamity."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Congress must act to bring our troops home

Oliver North, a conservative U.S. commentator, says in a commentary published by the Los Angeles Times that he opposes any additional extension of the U.S. Bosnia mission. North writes: "As one who cradled dying Marines in my arms in the faraway jungles of Vietnam, I'm convinced that it's time to end the Balkans quagmire. If the Clinton administration won't do it, then Congress must act to bring our troops home." He says: "The desire to bring stability to the Balkans and ensure that war criminals are brought to justice is understandable. However, U.S. decision-makers must not equate the war criminals of the former Yugoslavia with those of Nazi Germany."

North continues: "Worse yet, requiring U.S. troops to serve as police in the Balkans not only invites needless casualties in a dubious cause, it also suggests such use elsewhere." The writer says: "In the face of the president's ambiguous and confused Bosnia policy, it is up to Congress to bring some clarity to the situation. Such congressional action will send a message to the international community that demonstrates a U.S. interest to help but not to engage in any long-term police action. This is a much needed message to our allies around the globe and especially our European friends."

NEW YORK TIMES: The international force has successfully secured a fragile peace

In a New York Times news analysis, James Bennet writes from Washington: "This will be Clinton's second extension of a mission that has been controversial since he first ordered ground troops into Bosnia to carry out peace accords negotiated in Dayton in 1995. Clinton originally said the troops would be there for only one year, through the end of 1996. But days after the presidential election last year, he said the troops would stay through June 1998." Bennet continues: "

No American troops have fallen to hostile fire during the Bosnian mission. Despite criticism that key provisions of the Dayton accords --most notably the repatriation of refugees and the arrest of accused war criminals-- have not been carried out, the international force has successfully secured a fragile peace."

DIE WELT: Westendorp regards his new powers as a decisive instrument in forcing through the terms of the Dayton deal

Two German newspapers carry commentary on another aspect of international intervention in Bosnia --the exercise by High Commissioner Carlos Westendorp of extraordinary legislative powers assigned him at an international conference in Bonn last week (Dec. 10). Boris Kalnoky and Andreas Middel comment in Die Welt: "Westendorp regards his new powers as a decisive instrument in forcing through the terms of the Dayton deal. The key laws needed to set up a working Bosnian state have been hindered from all sides. Westendorp intends to halt this obstruction"

Their commentary continues: "The diplomat intends that within the next year his new powers will be used to ensure that Bosnia is equipped with at least the external attributes of a normal state. After the citizenship issue, another major factor is a single currency. The military backing for Westendorp's new political offensive comes from the NATO-led SFOR and by the new force which will take over the mission in the middle of 1988 which is already being called, in Nato circles, DFOR, short for deterrent force."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Westendorp decree means that the Bosnia mission has entered a new stage

Peter Munch writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "From now on, his word is law in Bosnia. Carlos Westendorp, the high representative with responsibility for putting into action civilian aspects of the Dayton agreement, has for the first time stepped in and sorted out a tangled, on-going dispute between the three ethnic parties." The writer says: "But the increase in powers gained by the foreign protector of peace has come only at a price: he will not be able to get rid of the responsibilities he has taken on as quickly as he acquired them. The Westendorp decree means that the Bosnia mission has entered a new stage. Until now it has been --wrongly-- expected that, under outside pressure, the leaders of the Muslim, Serb and Croat communities would jointly create the state agreed to in the Dayton agreement."