Allies to deploy advance force

Bosnia peace deal: As troops prepare to leave, Sarajevo's French commander attacks US motives and raises fears for Serbs

KURT SCHORK

Reuter

Sarajevo - Nato agreed yesterday to send the first 2,600 troops of a 60,000-strong force to police a Bosnia peace settlement, but the UN commander for Sarajevo openly criticised the deal and warned it might be unworkable.

Nato ambassadors meeting in Brussels agreed to dispatch an "enabling force" of American, French and British troops who are expected to start arriving in Bosnia early next week to check that roads and airfields can take heavy military traffic.

The Nato decision came after a major obstacle to the participation of 20,000 American troops in the force was removed when the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, gave his reluctant backing in Washington. Mr Dole announced he was drafting a resolution of support for the Bosnia mission.

But the French UN commander for Sarajevo, General Jean-Rene Bachelet, said the deal brokered in Dayton, Ohio, by the US government had been forced through to promote President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign.

The general also attacked a clause bringing Serb suburbs of Sarajevo under the control of the Muslim-Croat government. General Bachelet said Sarajevo Serbs would flee in their thousands, burning their homes."We would then watch French soldiers on television screens directing traffic while houses are burning," he said.

Bosnian Serb sources in Pale yesterday said Serb civilians have begun leaving suburbs to be handed over but described it as a trickle rather than a rush.

General Bachelet accused chief US negotiator Richard Holbrooke of seeking "to obtain at whatever cost an agreement to serve the electoral interests of an American candidate".

However, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo, Alexander Ivanko, said: "We at the higher command fully support the Dayton agreement".

It was the second time that France has questioned the Dayton pact. On Wednesday, President Jacques Chirac was reported to have written to Mr Clinton demanding guarantees for the Serbs living in Sarajevo.

A French newspaper said yesterday that the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, had offered Paris help in freeing two detained French airmen in exchange for its support for a better deal for Sarajevo's Serbs. Le Figaro quoted Italian writer Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, a go-between for Bosnian Serbs in the past, as saying: "Karadzic thinks he has a good chance of achieving the release of the pilots if Jacques Chirac makes a positive gesture."

A Foreign Ministry official in Paris insisted yesterday that there was no connection between Mr Chirac's letter to Mr Clinton and the fate of the missing flyers, shot down over Serb-held Bosnia in August.

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