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NATO to Maintain Security Force in Bosnia - 2002-01-16


NATO says it remains committed to maintaining a security role in Bosnia despite discussions among the allies about cutting their troop presence. The United Nations' top representative for Bosnia met with NATO officials Wednesday to urge the alliance to maintain a strong presence in the country, which is "not yet a viable state."

U.N. representative Wolfgang Petritsch is worried about calls from the United States that NATO should cut its 18,000 man force in Bosnia by one-third. He briefed NATO ambassadors about the security situation in the country and its slow progress in building a multi-ethnic democracy.

Mr. Petritsch was reassured by NATO Secretary General George Robertson that the alliance plans to remain in Bosnia, where its SFOR Stabilization Force has kept the peace between Muslims, Croats and Serbs since the 1995 Dayton accord split the former Yugoslav republic into two autonomous regions under a loose umbrella government. "NATO remains absolutely committed to a safe and secure environment in Bosnia-Herzegovina," he said. "It is possible that some reductions can be made partly through a regional rationalization of forces. But no decisions have been taken. And the principle that we went in together, we are succeeding together, and we will leave together remains the principle and the policy as far as SFOR troop levels are concerned."

Mr. Robertson says the United States will seek agreement from its allies before making any withdrawals from Bosnia. Washington says the police work being carried out by NATO troops in Bosnia has begun to strain military resources needed for the war against terrorism. Mr. Robertson wants to bring NATO operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia under a single command. But he says force levels will not be decided until next May.

Mr. Petritsch says the allies reassured him they will consult closely with his administration before cutting back their troop presence in Bosnia. He says Bosnia is still unable to stand on its own feet and continues to need international security support. "There is a resolve to maintain the necessary capability of SFOR, of NATO, in Bosnia-Herzegovina," he said. "We have not yet reached the so-called point of no return where Bosnia-Herzegovina is indeed a viable and self-sustaining state."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has proposed that the European Union lead an international police force in Bosnia to ease SFOR's peacekeeping duties. But the EU has not yet committed itself to doing so.

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