US and Kremlin thrash out peace force deal

YELTSIN ON THE BRINK

CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

and agencies

The United States and Russia reached agreement yesterday on a joint support force to serve in Bosnia, but failed to resolve the broader issue of Russia's refusal to have its peacekeeping troops serve under Nato command.

The special operations unit would be under the command of Gen. George Joulwan, the US general who heads Nato, with a Russian general as his second in command.

The agreement was announced at the Fort Riley military base in Kansas by the US Defense Secretary William Perry as the Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, sat at his side. They were watching joint US-Russian military peacekeeping exercises.

"I'm pleased to tell you that we have reached agreement," began Mr Perry. "Russia and the United States will each contribute several thousand military personnel to a multinational special operations unit." He said the unit would work on engineering, transport and construction and would not be part of the Nato peacekeeping force.

It will begin its work about one month after a Nato peacekeeping force deploys in Bosnia, he said.

Mr Perry avoided getting into the question of President Boris Yeltsin's refusal to have his country's troops serve under Nato. However, Mr Grachev made it clear that remained a difficult issue.

"Let's not be in too much of a hurry," Mr Grachev said. "The basic task is to define how Russian units would participate in the overall peacekeeping system, however not under direct Nato control," he added, speaking through an interpreter.

The Russian Defense Minister said there were "five or six options" that could be used to circumvent direct command.

A Russian team under Colonel General Shevtsov of the Russian General Staff has been working in Nato's Supreme Headquarters in Mons, Belgium, since 15 October to thrash out detailed arrangements with Nato. Col-Gen Shevtsov initially indicated that Russia would provide an airborne division of perhaps 10,000 troops under the Nato headquarters in Naples to work in parallel with up to 60,000 troops from Nato's Rapid Reaction Corps. More recently, there have been indications that Russia would accept the opportunity to provide just 2,000 troops - a couple of regiments.

Mr Perry and Mr Grachev worked several hours in Washington on Thursday and continued their discussions on the flight to Kansas yesterday.

Immediately after their announcement, they went out to watch US and Russian troops rehearse peacekeeping operations, including setting up a buffer zone between warring parties within the fictional country of Kanza.

The troops were setting up checkpoints, escorting convoys and quelling a mock civil disturbance as part of an exercise expected to last several days.

A similar US-Russian exercise was held in September 1994 in Russia.

Mr Perry and Mr Grachev said they would meet in mid-November in Brussels to work out additional details on troops in Bosnia.

"We discussed specific scenarios and options," said Mr Perry. Among them was "the possibility of a multinational peacekeeping operation involving both American and Russian troops and possibly troops of other countries."

He said the issue they had to resolve was "how that operation could be compatible with the Nato implementation force." A senior defense official said later that what Mr Perry and Mr Grachev were discussing was an additional international peacekeeping force that would give the Russians a role in addition to the support unit.

"I am certain we will arrive on the true path," said Mr Grachev.

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