Muslims raise stakes as peace talks near

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The Independent Online



Defence Correspondent

A week before the Bosnian peace talks open in Ohio, President Alija Izetbegovic yesterday raised the stakes by insisting his Muslim-led government was winning the war, and would not accept the division of his country "in whatever packaging it may be served".

Mr Izetbegovic told the UN that partition would lead to a restart of the fighting. If the talks were successful, he demanded that the international community deny reconstruction assistance to any party which refused to respect human rights.

The Bosnian leader was speaking as he and President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia prepared to meet President Bill Clinton,in a last round of bilateral summitry before the two leaders join President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia for the peace negotiations at an air base in Dayton, Ohio, amid signs of difficulties in organising the Nato-led force to police a settlement.

Tomorrow the US and Russian defence ministers meet at the Pentagon to work out a formula for Russia to take part in the force, following the failure of Mr Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin to do so at their brief summit near New York on Monday.

No less troublesome for Mr Clinton is mounting Congressional and public unease over plans to send 20,000 US troops to Bosnia to help police a settlement.

A USA-Today poll showed a 50-44 margin in favour of US participation. But that figure turns into a two-to-one majority against, on the assumption that there are casualties.

The public overwhelmingly believes Mr Clinton should secure approval from Congress before sending soldiers - something which the White House says it is not bound to do.

The Nato-Russia problem is political: practical military issues are already being worked on. A six-man Russian team led by Colonel-General Leonid Shevtsov of the main operations directorate of the Russian General Staff has been at Nato headquarters in Belgium since 15 October, discussing a common mission and purpose for the proposed Bosnia force, estimated at 60,000 troops, command and control, rules of engagement and the management of airspace over former Yugoslavia.

Russian and Nato troops are unlikely to have to work together in the same small units. The main problems, apart from Russia's reluctance to take direct orders from Nato commanders, arise from potential misunderstandings about what instructions mean at the higher levels.

Nato talks about "command and control" but this embraces two concepts: British troops remain under British command but may be under the operational control of a US general, as in the Gulf war. To the Russians, command and control is just one concept.

Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US General George Joulwan, said on 17 October that it was remained a Nato priority to ensure unity of command. General Shevtsov said on Monday that he agreed, "but not in the office of a Nato chief".

Russia wants the force deployed under "UN authorisation". Nato has no problem with this, but argues that the UN can subcontract its mission to any organisation it chooses. The Russians' problem, Nato sources said, is the direct authority, giving orders in the theatre.

Nato's Commander-in-Chief in Southern Europe, Admiral Leighton Smith, based in Naples, is expected to command the overall operation. Russia might provide a deputy commander at this level, and a significant proportion of staff, to overcome concerns about who was in overall charge

On the ground in Bosnia, the Nato Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) is expected to take control of the 60,000 Nato troops. The US, which has offered 20,000 troops, is expected to provide one division. Britain is expected to provide another and the French a third, with specialist units from other Nato countries.

General Shevtsov has indicated Russia might send one of its five Airborne Divisions, which would be directly subordinated to the theatre command and not to the Nato ARRC.