US remains reluctant to commit troops in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
FOR ALL the growing peace momentum in Bosnia, largely attributed to more energetic intervention by the US, the administration of Bill Clinton is still insisting it will only send troops to the former Yugoslav republic when all three warring factions have subscribed to a settlement.

In the weeks since the 6 February mortar attack on a Sarajevo market which finally shook Washington and the West out of lethargy, President Clinton and other senior officials have reiterated that the US will provide a substantial part of a UN peace-keeping force, once the Muslims, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs have signed a final peace agreement. The American contingent, they say, would be up to one-third of the total.

But despite the appeal of UN officials on the ground for more men to safeguard the present unofficial calm, and arguments that nothing could so incline the Bosnian Serbs to serious peace-making than the sight of US troops among them, there has been no public sign from Washington that this will quickly happen.

For the first time in a year, the US can boast that it has a genuine Bosnian policy being put into effect. This week's show of Nato air muscle and the accord here between Muslims and Bosnian Croats are regarded as highly encouraging.

But the President remains committed to seeking Congressional approval for the dispatch of American ground forces to the Balkan battle zone, only after a 'workable' accord, satisfactory to all parties, has been achieved. The recent string of diplomatic and military successes has not dented the deep aversion of Congress to risking US lives.

Reinforcing that aversion will have been the blunt warning this week of General David Maddox, commander of US forces in Europe, whence Washington's share of the peace-keeping force would come. 'Hopefully I won't have a Beirut, but we're going to have some fights there,' General Maddox said. 'We're going to take some losses in getting the job done.'

The US strategy now is somehow to persuade the Bosnian Serbs to come into a broader accord built on the Muslim-Croat deal here. Pentagon officials say such an arrangement might require only 35,000 or so UN troops, compared with 50,000 at least for the orginal Vance-Owen plan to split Bosnia into 10 ethnically based 'cantons'.

To bring in the Serbs, Washington is banking on a combination of war-weariness on all sides, Russian pressure on their fellow Orthodox Slavs and the promise of an end to the Western economic quarantine on Belgrade and its surrogates in Bosnia. According to Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, the new agreement will create 'a balance of power more likely to make the Serbs negotiate seriously'.