Turkey presses to join UN troops

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The Independent Online
TURKEY has renewed its efforts to send a substantial force to join UN troops in Bosnia, Turkish diplomats said yesterday. It believes that its Nato allies may be ready to drop objections to the involvement of states close to the region in the wake of the deployment of Russian troops in Sarajevo.

Western diplomats say a decision could come this month. But they add it is too early to tell if the UN leadership will give the Turks the go-ahead for a first troop deployment in the Balkans since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region for 500 years until the First World War.

There is still international hesitation, given the virulent hatred of Turks expressed by Balkan states such as Serbia and Greece. When Turkey sent 18 F-16 warplanes to help enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia, Athens forced them to fly around its airspace, despite the two countries being Nato allies.

'There are certainly fears that Turkish involvement could be counter-productive,' one senior Western diplomat said. Some believe that the United States, unwilling to risk its own troops, is pushing its close ally Turkey forward. Another important factor is that Turkey is one of the few potential contributor states ready, waiting and willing to send troops to support increased UN commitments in Bosnia.

Turks believe they are being unfairly treated, accepted by the West for dangerous and distant missions in Korea or Somalia but not allowed to help protect the Bosnian Muslims despite requests from Sarajevo's leadership. And yet Russia, which openly sympathises with the Serbs, has been free to protect them.

Russia is suspicious of Turkish ambitions not just for the Muslims of the Balkans but also for the Turkic-speaking minorities in the former Soviet Union. Turkey is worried about Russian military influence creeping back through the Balkans and the Caucasus.