New peace force to aid Bosnia's transition

In a brief ceremony yesterday morning, Nato's peace implementation force in Bosnia, I-For, became the stabilisation force - S-For.

Nato's supreme commander in Europe, General George Joulwan, and the commander of S-For, General William Crouch, saluted as an I-For flag was hauled down at the headquarters at Ilidza, outside Sarajevo, and an S-For flag hoisted in its place, but that was the only visible change.

At its height, I-For had 58,000 troops. S-For is 31,000 strong, but will reduce in size over the next 18 months.

The structure of the new force is similar to I-For, with a US commander, General Crouch, and a British deputy, Lieutenant-General Roderick Cordy- Simpson. British numbers in Bosnia are expected to decline from 6,000 to about 5,000 over the next few weeks.

The biggest change from I-For is the appearance of two German armoured infantry battalions. Previously, Germany has only provided support troops in Croatia. The Americans continue to control the northern sector, based at Tuzla, with two Russian airborne battalions under their control. The presence of the Russians is very important to Nato, which sees it as one of the main levers to persuade the Russians to cooperate with the alliance on enlargement.

S-For will have no more authority to go in search of wanted war criminals than I-For did. That is seen as the responsibility of the local forces.

S-For will concentrate on helping the process of civilian reconstruction, which still has a long way to go. Over the next 18 months the aim is to reduce the military presence and concentrate on reforming the police and encouraging freedom of movement.