Doubts growing on Russian role in Bosnia force: Hopes recede of Moscow joining Nato peace-keeping mission

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The Independent Online
NATO still wants Russia to participate in any Bosnian peace- keeping operation, the alliance said yesterday. But it was evident that the turmoil in Moscow has added to doubts over whether such an operation will materialise.

'Even if we wouldn't need them, we would still look for them,' Manfred Worner, the Nato secretary-general, said at a meeting of defence ministers from Nato, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He added: 'That is true for Russia but not only for Russia.'

Russian involvement and possibly that of some other non- Nato forces is important to underpin the legitimacy of any peace-keeping operation. After discussions with General Pavel Grachev, the Russian Defence Minister, Mr Worner said he did not think there was a 'major problem' over peace-keeping in Bosnia. Other delegations said that they had been reassured about the role of the Russian military.

But there is no doubt that the rise of nationalist forces in Moscow has cast a shadow over the policing of a peace agreement. The Nato ministers and their colleagues from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union yesterday put their weight behind the initiative, set out by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, the international mediators.

'We call upon the Bosnian Serb leadership to agree to the peace plan,' the ministers said in a communique. The deal has already been agreed by the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croats. If a treaty were agreed and a UN Security Council resolution passed, there would be very little time available for Nato to prepare a plan to implement it.

The alliance has said that it would be ready to assist but a series of practical difficulties have put that at risk.

There is continuing disagreement over whether the operation would be under Nato command, as the alliance and in particular the US insist, but which France has resisted. 'I personally believe that unity of command is essential if you want to succeed,' said Mr Worner. At a meeting last week, Nato's most senior military officials also cast serious doubt on whether the plan was, as it stood, operable.

They fear that, far from being just a police action, it would quickly deteriorate into open warfare. Previously officials had said that a force of some 50,000 troops would be required, but yesterday some Nato ministers were raising this to 75,000.

So far there have been no indications of practical support for any peace-keeping mission. The US repeated that it would be prepared, in principle, to participate. 'Nato should play an important role and the US stands ready to make a substantial contribution, possibly inlcuding ground forces,' said William Perry, Deputy Secretary of Defense. But it has made it clear that US forces will take part only if certain conditions are met, including clear lines of command.

Mr Perry clarified the position of the new administration on force levels in Europe, saying the US was in the process of reducing its presence here to 'about 100,000 troops', despite rumours that cuts might go further. Mr Worner said: 'I expect them not to go below this threshold.'

Yesterday, some 1,500 people were evacuated from the besieged Muslim enclave of Srebrenica as a ceasefire appeared to be holding for the second day throughout Bosnia.

The evacuees, mainly women, children and elderly people, were heading for the neighbouring town of Tuzla in 20 trucks that had brought relief supplies to Srebrenica on Sunday, according to a Yugoslav journalist escorting the convoy.

The ceasefire, which went into effect at noon on Sunday, appeared to be holding, with only isolated arms fire reported in Sarajevo.