Clinton sends first troops to Bosnia

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President Bill Clinton yesterday approved the dispatch of hundreds of American troops into Bosnia to prepare the ground for implementing the Dayton peace accord.

Speaking in Madrid at the close of a summit between the United States and European Union, Mr Clinton said: "I have authorised the Secretary of Defense to order the deployment of the preliminary troops to do preparatory work in Bosnia ... They will be going into the area over the next couple of days."

The troops, thought to number about 700, are part of 2,000-strong American "enabling force" due to fly to Bosnia before 14 December, when the Dayton accord, which has so far only been initialled, is expected to be signed in Paris.

Mr Clinton said he did not think the treaty was in trouble or should be renegotiated, despite objections on Saturday from the Bosnian Serb commander, Ratko Mladic. "President Milosevic [of Serbia, who represented the Bosnian Serbs at Dayton] made strong commitments which he will have to fulfil to secure the support of Bosnian Serb leaders for this agreement," Mr Clinton said.

Gen Mladic was apparently close to tears on Saturday as he said: "Serbs cannot agree with the Dayton maps ... We cannot allow our people to come under the rule of butchers." But despite the battle-cry of Gen Mladic, himself indicted for war crimes, few in Ilidza or the other Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo seem willing to fight the world: most are preparing to move out when the Muslim-led government takes control.

There is concern that the Serb leadership might try to stage an incident to frighten Washington out of sending troops. But the American sector - north-eastern Bosnia - is likely to be the safest place for peace-keepers.

Bob Dole and other Republican leaders in the Senate said they were reluctantly reconciled to the fact that they could not stop Mr Clinton. But they said the Republican-controlled Congress would not support the President unless the deployment was accompanied by agreement to arm and train the Bosnian army. Mr Dole, Senate majority leader, said plans to withdraw troops within a year would not be realistic "unless the Bosnians have parity as far as military capability is concerned with the Serbs and the Croats and whatever."

Mr Dole said that since Mr Clinton had decided upon an "entry strategy", it was up to Congress to furnish him with an "exit strategy". He said he expected to present the details to the White House in the shape of a congressional resolution.

Mr Dole was backed by John McCain, a Republican, who noted that his party lacked numbers in the Congress to block the President.

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