Nato warns factions to stand by peace deal

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The Independent Online




The winter-long pall of fog shrouding the city of Tuzla yesterday lifted long enough for the long-awaited US deployment to begin in earnest, 48 hours before Nato takes over command in Bosnia from the United Nations.

By early evening, 16 cargo planes had landed at Tuzla air base, the latest carrying 120 paratroops from the 325th Airborne, marching off with Stars and Stripes flying: 700 more are expected to arrive in the next couple of days to guard the base.

But, as befits the bizarre state of affairs in Tuzla, where American journalists far outnumber the troops, the first planes seemed to be carrying more camera crews and military PR men than combat units. Still, the US army heaved a sigh of relief that, after five days of cancelled flights, the runway was visible to incoming pilots.

One of the first loads was a large consignment of bottled water and a smaller group of British troops. But by evening there was no sign of the Russian contingent rumoured to be en route for Tuzla, where they will work under US command.

The US schedule, said Brigadier-General Stan Cherrie of the 1st Armoured Division, was "a little bit behind - no problem". The transfer of authority from the UN to Nato would go ahead tomorrow at noon, he added. But he could give no starting date for the US deployment beyond the Tuzla air base.

US troops have reached the Sava river border with Croatia, north of Tuzla, and are preparing to build a bridge for combat units.

General Cherrie sat in on a UN meeting yesterday with commanders from all three warring factions, and won permission for a final reconnaissance trip to examine the road south from Croatia.

All three parties, he said, were "very, very responsive" and "genuinely agreeable". This is an assessment shared by Brigadier Richard Dannatt, a senior British UN officer who will switch his blue beret for Nato green tomorrow.

"I'm cautiously optimistic this can work," the brigadier said in Gornji Vakuf, the frontline town shattered in the Muslim-Croat war. It will serve as head-quarters for the British Nato sector in western Bosnia.

The brigadier emphasised the Bosnian Serbs' "co-operative" attitude - the British sector includes the city of Banja Luka and the towns of Mrkonjic Grad and Sipovo, which are to revert to Serb control.

"They realised the time had come to talk sensibly, to talk peace." None the less, the brigadier explained to all the commanders that Nato would not submit to the harassment or restrictions previously imposed on the UN peace-keepers.

The peace plan, he said, had been signed by each army's leaders and it was their job to comply with its provisions. If they did not, there was "no doubt whatsoever" that Nato would use the overwhelming military force - including artillery and air power - at its disposal. "But I detect that it will not be necessary."he added.

The British deployment, which includes 3,000 British UN blue beret peace- keepers already in place and 10,000 fresh troops, has continued unscathed so far.

France will be responsible for the south-eastern sector of Bosnia, which includes the continuing and potential trouble spots of Sarajevo, the Muslim enclave of Gorazde, and the divided city of Mostar.

France's principle of sending only volunteers on active duty abroad will be maintained. More than 50 French soldiers have been killed in Bosnia, and more than 600 wounded since the beginning of French involvement in 1991.

The country will have 7,500 men on the ground. There will also will be 1,200 Spanish troops, 2,100 Italians, and about 1,000 Portuguese.