I-For faces first Bosnia deadlines

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CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Gornji Vakuf

Today is the single most important day so far for the peace implementation force in Bosnia. Most of the actions stipulated under the Dayton peace agreement have been completed with surprising ease and good will: only one, the exchange of prisoners of war, is being delayed until the last moment. If, by midnight tonight, 30 days after the agreement came into effect, the prisoners are not released, then all three parties will be in breach of the agreement.

The other outstanding matter is 120 mujahedin - militant Muslim fighters from Islamic countries - in the Bihac area. Under the Dayton agreement, they should have left Bosnia by 13 January. Yesterday a British company of 100 troops and five Warrior vehicles headed into the area to persuade the mujahedin to leave for Zagreb. The problem is where - and how - they will travel from there.

The four-kilometre "zone of separation" straddling the ceasefire line and the new frontier between the Muslim/Croat and Serb entities within Bosnia has been cleared of troops, and all the mined areas - more than a thousand - have been marked, as agreed.

The implementation force, I-For, has moved to secure the areas to be handed over under the terms of the agreement.

The biggest, 400 square miles, which I-For calls "the Anvil", is centred on Sipovo, where the British 4th Armoured Brigade has taken up residence. It is a sorry, bleak wilderness, occupied by I-For troops and the Bosnian Croat army. A few civilians remain, including the population of two Croat villages.

They lived, untroubled, under Bosnian Serb rule. In the summer, the Serbs were pushed out. By mid-March, they will have returned under the terms of the Dayton agreement. Brigadier Richard Dannatt, commanding 4th Brigade, is trying to persuade the Croats to stay, and they may well do so.

With its work cut out to ensure the Dayton terms are fulfilled, I-For has avoided being dragged into investigating the allegations of a mass grave of war-crime victims near Ljubija, south of Prijedor. That lies outside its mandate, but it is a delicate matter, as the Muslim-Croat side has demanded action, and I-For will report anything it hears.

Last night the British Chief of Defence Staff, Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, arrived to see the biggest deployment of British forces since the Gulf war. More than 10,000 have now arrived and many of those are heading for the Anvil. Just before they reach the Anvil, they enter the assembly area at Kupres, a bullet-spattered town on a windy, rock-strewn plain. For years it was was out of bounds to the UN. Now dark-green vehicles with "I-For" in white paint and inverted black Vs - the recognition symbol used in the Gulf - cruise the road freely.

Today Sir Peter will fly over the zone of separation in a helicopter and visit his troops at Sipovo. They have fanned out across the Anvil, and are also guarding key installations to stop them being wrecked before the Serbs return. At Bocac they are guarding a hydro-electric dam which still provides power for Banja Luka, the Serb city to the north.

n Sanski Most (Reuter) - Bosnian investigators say they have identified six mass graves in northern Bosnia containing the bodies of about 240 suspected victims of Serb ethnic cleansing in 1992. An investigative judge, Adil Draganovic, and a group of European Union monitors visited the six sites, all within 10 miles of Sanski Most.

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