Nato decides on Bosnia force

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The Independent Online
NATO IS expected to make a formal decision today on extending the mandate of its peacekeeping troops in Bosnia after the current one runs out at the end of June.

The Nato Council, comprising ambassadors of the 16 member countries, provisionally agreed on Wednesday to keep the Stabilisation Force (S-For) at around 34,000, but said a formal decision would only be announced after the alliance had consulted its partners, including Russia, which have troops on the ground in Bosnia.

The detailed operation will be drawn up by the American General Wesley Clark, 53, Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe with overall command of the Bosnia operation, by the end of April.

The size of the force will be reviewed after Bosnia's presidential and parliamentary elections in September, and "significant" reductions are likely if the fragile political and security climate allows. One Nato source said the force would probably be cut to about 20,000.

The new force will lay heavy emphasis on returning refugees to former homes in areas now ruled by erstwhile war enemies. It is also expected to continue arresting indicted war criminals if encountered in the normal course of duty. General Clark has also insisted on having a specialized unit to support the work of the local police forces.

- Reuters, Brussels