US brandishes big stick in Bosnia

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The Independent Online


"Speak softly and carry a big stick," said Theodore Roosevelt, an adage the Americans are putting into practice in northern Bosnia. Although they lack the long peace-keeping experience of the British and French, the Americans havestumbled on one of its cardinal principles.

The armoured bridge-layers and wide, low "Humvees", cross-country vehicles carrying heavy machine guns, mingle with thousands of other green and black vehicles bearing the Stars and Stripes, while military police direct everyone.

In the vastness of the desert in the Gulf war, the impression made by the huge US presence was diluted. But in the narrow Bosnian lanes the sheer numbers, professionalism, self-confidence and swagger of the US 1st Armoured Division convey an awesome impression of American power. No local warlord is going to mess with them.

But for all their firepower, the Americans remain highly security-conscious. Their vehicles only travel in groups of four or more, while troops put on body armour and full battle equipment to move between buildings on the Tuzla base, which went on to a "red alert" this week after a scare report that a single black mujahedin Muslim fighter was on the loose in a US uniform. The mujahedin were supposed to have been out of Bosnia by mid-January.

Between half and two-thirds of the US-led Multinational Division (North) has now arrived, including troops from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Turkey and Russia. The Russians yesterday began moving in their main body of troops by rail through Hungary to Bijeljina, on the "Serb side".

Nato's supreme commander, US General George Joulwan, and the Russian special representative to Nato, Colonel-General Leontiy Shevtsov, were due to fly to Tuzla from Moscow yesterday after talks with the Russian Defence Minister, General Pavel Grachev. However, freezing weather had turned Tuzla runway into an ice rink. The nationalities already in Bosnia will be joined by small units from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. If ever there was a laboratory for international military co-operation, it is here. Incredibly, it might just work.

n London (AP) - Bosnia may hold up to 300 mass graves, but it is not possible to secure them all, the commander of Nato's peace force, Admiral Leighton Smith, said yesterday. "The last estimate I got is that there is somewhere between 200 and 300 suspected grave sites in Bosnia," he said.

Visiting Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, last weekend, the US Assistant Secretary of State, John Shattuck, spoke of evidence that up to 7,000 lie buried in mass graves. Richard Goldstone, head of the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said investigators would arrive at the graves "in the very near future".