General Winter harries US vanguard

Bosnia peace force: Severe weather conditions and poor roads pose biggest obstacles to the deployment of GIs in north-east
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The Independent Online
The first group of US soldiers dispatched to keep the new peace in Bosnia were due to arrive in Tuzla last night, where the American force is to have its headquarters. Eight or nine liaison officers, accompanied by a small reconnaissance party, were expected to reach the town by road, as the huge air base is almost permanently fog-bound in winter.

"They are due to arrive today and they are, I think, on their way by road," Captain Yahya Siddiqui, a UN spokesman in Tuzla, said yesterday. He had no details about the teams' plans, but they are likely to start setting up communications for the Tuzla headquarters and scouting around for suitable bases in the area.

Meanwhile, the first Nato troops flew to Croatia and Sarajevo from a British air force base at Bruggen in northern Germany. The 56 members of the British 7th Signals regiment who left on the first C-130 transporter were assigned to support Nato's Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC). Three more aircraft from RAF Lyneham stopped in Brueggen to pick up more equipment, soldiers and ARRC officers based in Germany and destined for Split and Sarajevo. The ARRC has prime responsibility for running a 60,000-strong ground force implementing the Dayton accord.

It seems that several plane-loads more of Americans attached to the Nato Implementation Force (I-For) will finally reach Tuzla tomorrow, weather permitting. Winter will be the first obstacle to the US deployment. Apart from a semi-permanent fog, snow threatens to fall. Roads in the area are small and badly maintained, despite the efforts of the UN forces around Tuzla, and a heavy snowfall will slow traffic even more.

Under the peace plan, the Nato division in charge of north-eastern Bosnia will include 20,000 US troops, a Nordic brigade of Swedes, Danes and Finns, a Russian brigade and a Turkish element. Lieutenant-Colonel Sverker Goranson, chief of staff for the UN Nordic battalion, based in Tuzla, will switch his blue beret for military green once Nato takes control in mid-December.

He does not foresee military trouble for the Americans, as the front lines are relatively stable, and very little land will change hands under the peace deal. But he is concerned about the logistics of the operation: "They will face the same problems as we do: the number of mines along the confrontation line, which will take a long time to clear. If we get a tough winter, if there is snow ...

"If you look at the terrain, there are very few roads of a high standard. One runs north to south, another east to west, and all the rest are gravel."

The troops' first task, following the construction of camps near Tuzla and closer to the front line, will be to create a 4km "zone of separation" between the warring forces within 30 days. That will involve overseeing the withdrawal of all soldiers and weapons from the line and clearing mines. Then the soldiers will build fixed observation posts along the line and open crossings.

Colonel Goranson is confident I-For will meet its deadline, if the weather holds. Ominous snowflakes whirled down yesterday, coating the hills, but petered out into drizzle in the afternoon. He is also relatively optimistic about the Dayton deal: "Everyone in uniform [in Bosnia] is sick and tired of the war. They want something else, but they are taking very small steps because they don't really trust the enemy. I can't blame them, I understand, they have had up to 36 ceasefires before."

He had a word of warning for the newcomers, used as they are to exerting total control over their environment: "If you have a problem, the first step is to negotiate. You don't resolve everything by slapping someone else's face ... as long as they recognise that, there will be no problems."