US rearms Muslims in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
A massive arms shipment for the Muslim-Croat Federation forces in Bosnia will arrive at the Adriatic port of Ploce tomorrow. The shipment is part of the United States' "train-and-equip" programme and is the first overt shipment of heavy weaponry to one of the former warring factions in Bosnia since the start of the three-and-a-half-year civil war in 1992. It comprises 45 tanks, 79 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), 15 helicopters, ammunition and communications equipment.

An initial shipment of 1,000 M-16 rifles and ammunition arrived last August: the heavy equipment forms the bulk of the $100m (pounds 63m) deal.

It is expected that the federation will have to scrap some old military equipment in order to remain within the weapons ceilings laid down in last year's Dayton peace agreement. None of the US equipment is at the cutting edge of military technology, but it is substantially better than anything the federation had available in the war.

Although the US is also providing troops for the Nato-led international peace implementation force (I-For) in Bosnia, the arm-and-train mission, run by ex-US officers under the auspices of a private firm, MPRI (Military Professional Resources, Inc.), is being kept quite separate.

I-For officers are uneasy about arm-and-train, which they find potentially embarrassing as it is taking place in parallel with efforts to maintain the peace. In the summer, the Bosnian Serbs accused I-For of helping supply federation forces with armoured vehicles and missiles. An I-For spokesman said: "the only thing we care about is if they start moving them around."

During the war, the Muslims and Croats - sometimes fighting the Serbs, sometimes each other - were heavily out-gunned by the Bosnian Serb army. The Muslims managed to repair some weapons, build simple mortars and probably received some supplies covertly from Iran. The Dayton peace agreement laid down ceilings for armaments in the former Yugoslavia. Within Bosnia, the Muslim-Croat Federation is allowed twice as many weapons in the key categories of tanks, artillery, APCs, helicopters and aircraft as the Bosnian Serbs.

MPRI, based in Alexandria, Virginia, took two months to set up its operation, based in the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. This month, it began training troops from the Bosnian government army and the Bosnian Croat militia (the HVO), at a military academy near Sarajevo. The company is concentrating on training officers and senior NCOs who have experience from the war and will form the core of the future federation army's officer corps. But they have also started field training for two Bosnian Army "brigades".

An MPRI spokesman said that the shipment of equipment would be transferred by road from Ploce, in Croatia, to depots in Bosnia.