Nato to spell out new Bosnia force

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Nato will today decide on its plans for a follow-on force to help maintain peace in Bosnia throughout the winter: on its role, size, shape and how long it will stay. The chairman of Nato's Military Committee, General Klaus Naumann, will present the plans at a special meeting of Nato's ruling North Atlantic Council.

The mandate of the present force, I-For, currently 487,000 strong, expires on 20 December. The US had planned to have all its 15,000 troops out by then, but this was delayed until next March. US sources have continued to insist that all options remain open, including total withdrawal.

The other three options are to station forces near by, for example, in Hungary, from where they could be brought in if there was a crisis; for the force to stay much as it is; or for a smaller force. President Bill Clinton yesterday opened the door for a new mission in Bosnia with US participation. "There is some thought of a smaller, more limited mission, because economic reconstruction has not taken hold, and some tensions remain between the ethnic groups. If the mission is properly defined, I will consider it," he said.

Without US troops, no peace implementation force would be credible and it is expected that troops from the main contributors - the US, France and Britain - will remain in Bosnia in a pattern similar to their present deployment.

Unless there is a big surprise today, the new force will be headed by a US four-star general, William Crouch, head of Nato's Central European Land Command. His deputy will probably be British Lieutenant General Roddy Cordy-Simpson, although the French will insist on having someone of comparable rank in the Sarajevo headquarters. In place of three divisions, as now - one US, one British and one French - there will probably be three brigades of up to 10,000 troops.

The US recently moved in a 5,000-strong brigade of the 1st Infantry (Mechanised) - the "Big Red One" - ostensibly to cover the withdrawal of the 15,000 troops they have based in northern Bosnia. Similarly, the British have just moved 40 Armoured Brigade into their sector in west Bosnia.

t Pale - Bosnian Serb political leaders, asserting control over an army in disarray, swore in new commanders after sacking the indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic and other generals, Reuter reports. Obscure officers took an oath, sealing a decision announced over the weekend by the Bosnian Serb President, Biljana Plavsic.