Saudis want to join British troops in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
Saudi Arabia is expected to offer a battalion of 600 peace-keeping troops to join the 50,000-strong Nato-led peace implementation force (I-For) in Bosnia.

Although the exact destination of any troops offered by the Saudi government is still to be finalised, the Saudis are likely to be assigned to the British-led division, covering southern and western Bosnia, and based in a Muslim area. Military and diplomatic sources stressed the Saudis had not made a firm decision but that the British-led division, which already has Canadian, Czech and Malaysian troops under its command, is overstretched and would welcome additional forces.

Most of the I-For troops implementing the Dayton peace agreement are from Nato countries but some non-Nato nations, including Russia, have also contributed. Although the Saudis have worked closely with the US in the past, the US sector in northern Bosnia has more than enough troops and having the Saudis work with the British would capitalise on the already close defence relationship between the two countries; Saudi Arabia has bought British planes, and some Saudi officers are trained at Sandhurst.

The British-led division is based at Gornji Vakuf, between Muslim and Croat territory, but the Army hopes to move its headquarters to Banja Luka, in Bosnian Serb territory, if a suitable site is offered.

The British are responsible for the largest area transferred under the Dayton peace agreement, known as the "anvil", which has been returned to the Bosnian Serbs after being overrun by the Croats last summer. Military sources said yesterday that between 15,000 and 16,000 Bosnian Serbs had now returned to the area.