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Bosnia Mission Not Affected by US Demand, Says NATO - 2002-07-01

NATO says it remains committed to its peacekeeping duties in Bosnia, despite an American threat to shut down a U.N. police mission in the troubled Balkan country. NATO says its 18,000-strong force in Bosnia is not affected by the U.S. threat.

NATO reaffirmed its commitment to Bosnia after the ambassadors of its 19-member countries met Monday at alliance headquarters to discuss Washington's threat to withdraw from U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The United States insists other U.N. members must agree to exempt American peacekeepers from prosecution by the new international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

NATO is emphasizing that its Stabilization Force in Bosnia (SFOR) derives its mandate from the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war. But that mandate has U.N. blessing, and at least two SFOR contributors, Germany and the Netherlands, might have to pull out of the force because their laws require U.N. backing for any military operation beyond their borders.

U.S. diplomats at NATO say there are no plans for the 3,000 U.S. troops to pull out of SFOR. The U.S. ambassador to Bosnia tried to reassure an anxious Bosnian government that Washington's threat to leave the U.N. mission will not lead to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Bosnia as well.

Earlier, Bosnia pleaded with the United States to back off on its threats to dismantle the U.N. police mission, arguing such a step would hamper stability and erode recent progress toward establishing the rule of law.

Speaking from Sarajevo, U.N. special representative in Bosnia Jacques Klein says ending the police mission will only place a bigger burden on SFOR. "It means that SFOR would have to take up a considerable amount of more work in backing local police," he said. "I think it also undermines, in a way, the highly successful United Nations High Commission refugee program, because the essence of all refugee returns is security, and, without a police structure to maintain that security, you put that into jeopardy. And, also, we have an election coming up here on 5 October, where we are hoping that, again, non-nationalist parties would dominate the agenda, but that requires stability and it requires rule of law. It requires effective policing."

European diplomats in Brussels say the U.S. decision to veto extending the U.N. police mission in Bosnia is one more sign of what they perceive as the Bush Administration's tendency to act unilaterally, without taking anyone else's views into consideration.

The United Nations is trying to get the European Union to speed up its plans to take over the U.N. police mission in Bosnia, which it is scheduled to do by next January. But EU officials say accelerating the takeover would be logistically difficult.