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Western Press Review: Bosnian Peace Force Prospects Stretch Into Distant Future

Prague, 22 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The indistinct time boundaries of the international intervention in Bosnia occupy the pens of U.S. commentators and analysts.

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton broke a promise.

The Washington Post editorialized Saturday that U.S. President Bill Clinton, in announcing last week an indefinite extension of the U.S. troops' mission to Bosnia, broke a promise that he never should have made.

The Post said: "President Clinton is paying a political price for reversing direction and deciding to extend indefinitely, instead of ending on a date certain, the American ground presence in Bosnia. He broke a promise. But it was always an unwise promise, since it looked not to actual results but to an arbitrary 'exit strategy.' Clinton is right to move on. He can ease some of the political strain by staying alert to congressional and public anxieties about casualties and quagmire. He can make sure others among the NATO-led Bosnia peacekeepers carry a full share of the budgetary load. It is worth recalling that not so long ago many people saw the Dayton agreement as a dead end."

The editorial added: "If Bosnia were now abandoned, which would be the result of an American pullback, it would not gradually find its way to single-nation coexistence." It said: "A new international military mission (under American command) would be part of a security presence whose other part must be a much strengthened Bosnian police force."

The Post concluded: "In short, it is not enough simply to extend an American military role. It is necessary to use the new military commitment to leverage the civilian agenda. That is the way to make the military commitment safer and shorter and to generate an atmosphere making adherence to Dayton the expected and the norm."

FINANCIAL TIMES: President Clinton arrived in Bosnia today for a one-day visit.

In a news analysis in the British business daily Financial Times, Laura Silber and Bruce Clark write: "President Bill Clinton will deliver tough messages to Moslem and to Serb politicians when he arrives in Bosnia today, preparing the ground for an open-ended U.S. peace-keeping effort there."

They write: "The U.S. administration will warn Biljana Plavsic, Western-backed president of Republika Srpska -- the Serb republic which comprises 49 percent of Bosnia -- that continued U.S. support depends on her cooperation with the peace process." The writers say: "During his 24-hour visit, Mr. Clinton will try to persuade the U.S. public and Congress that peacekeeping in Bosnia is worthwhile and deserves to be prolonged as long as necessary."

NEW YORK TIMES: Extended deployment no surprise.

In a news analysis Sunday, Chris Hedges wrote that, given the meager progress they have made, U.S. forces are hardly astonished to see their deployment extended.

He wrote: "It has been two years since U.S. soldiers, part of a NATO-led force of 34,000 troops, arrived in Bosnia to separate the warring factions and help carry out a peace agreement that was supposed to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to their homes. But the enduring rancor and hatred have kept the country starkly partitioned along ethnic lines.

It is only at the edge of cease-fire lines like the one here a mile south of the town of Brcko, that a few hesitant families have tried to move back, usually not far from the watchful eyes of passing NATO patrols."

Hedges said: "President Clinton, who is coming to Bosnia on (today) for a brief visit with some of the 8,500 U.S. soldiers here, has called for an extension of the peace-keeping mission to prevent a resumption of the war and to build on the handful of tentative resettlement programs, like the one here. The news that the mission will be extended did not come as a surprise to the troops here, who said they expect international forces to be stuck in Bosnia for several years if fighting is to be prevented."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: An additional task at hand.

In Sunday's paper Eric Rosenburg writes in a news analysis that a central and essential task of an extended international military presence in Bosnia will be equipping and training domestic police to keep the peace.

He writes: "(U.S. soldiers) won't be coming home from Bosnia until a special United Nations group helps the fractured nation create a police force that will take over NATO peace-keeping work and end a long tradition of police brutality there. It will take time to transform a former communist police force that protected the state from its citizens into a force that protects citizens, according to administration officials and outside analysts."

He adds: "When President Clinton announced last week that U.S. troops would remain in the region indefinitely, he singled out the creation of a viable police force as a crucial benchmark for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Just how much work remains is underscored by the fact that U.N. officials worry whether Bosnian police (even) can guarantee the security of IPTF personnel."

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Clinton gives troops a Christmas address.

The U.S. President's visit today to troops in the field follows a holiday tradition, and it provides Clinton a pulpit from which to sermonize the U.S. public on the need for the United States to stay in Bosnia, Jonathan S. Landay wrote Friday in the U.S. newspaper.

Landay said: "Mr. Clinton will also be asking a reluctant U.S. military to stay beyond its scheduled exit date in June. It will be the second extension of the NATO-led operation that for two years has kept a shaky peace in Bosnia among Serbs, Muslims, and Croats after almost four years of war.

"Clinton's decision, which he announced (last Thursday), comes amid strong congressional opposition and is an acknowledgment that the 1995 U.S.-brokered peace plan remains unfulfilled. The overriding concern driving the decision is that a pullout could lead to a war that could spread through the Balkans, creating a divisive conflict in the middle of Europe. The new force will be smaller than the current 32,000-strong contingent, but its size and mission length are still to be worked out by NATO.

"Clinton's visit to Sarajevo -- a symbol of Bosnia's prewar multi-ethnic amity -- also provides a compelling stage from which he is expected to appeal anew to the American public to back a continued U.S. role in Bosnia."

WASHINGTON POST: American troops ambivalent about extended stay.

There will be a message from Bosnia today besides the one Clinton sends, William Drozdiak wrote yesterday in an analysis in The Washington Post. If he listens, Clinton will hear that U.S. forces have an ambivalence about their mission and its successes to date and its prospects.

Drozdiak said: "When the president arrives here (today) to visit the 8,000 American troops now serving in Bosnia under Task Force Eagle, he will meet soldiers and commanders who believe their peace-keeping effort to date has produced a mixed record of successes and disappointments.

"On the positive side, the Americans and other allied troops have suppressed Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II, disengaged ethnic armies, banished heavy weapons and supervised an exchange of territories in accordance with the Dayton peace accords. They also have rebuilt 1,500 miles of roads, 60 bridges and many heating plants and water pumping stations."