US troops set to extend stay in Hungary

Some United States forces may remain in Hungary after American troops pull out of Bosnia, according to diplomats in Budapest. The southern Hungarian town of Kaposvar and the nearby air force base at Taszar were selected last year to be the main staging-post for 20,000 US soldiers serving with the Nato-led I-For peace-keeping force in Bosnia.

"Taszar has proved itself to be a very useful supply base for peace-keeping forces in Bosnia and, if it were maintained, it would make it much easier to send in US troops again should the need arise," said one Western diplomat.

Although the success of the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia is far from assured, President Bill Clinton has pledged to pull out US forces there by late December. "At the moment various options are being considered which could involve US or other Nato or other I-For forces remaining there. But I do not expect a decision until at least a day after the US presidential election in November," said the diplomat.

The returning troops would all go through Taszar and Kaposvar, as most did on their way into Bosnia. At the peak of the operation early this year, almost 1,000 trucks a day were thundering through the town as soldiers and equipment normally based in Germany were redeployed to Bosnia.

As the noise subsided, residents focused more on the benefits: a huge injection of cash and hundreds of new jobs. "Every hotel-room in town has been booked for a year," beamed Karoly Szita, Mayor of Kaposvar. "And everyone in the world now knows the name of our town."

In addition, the establishment of the staging-post at Taszar, with 3,000 military personnel, has also boosted Hungary's hopes of being one of the first former Warsaw Pact countries to be admitted to Nato.

"The Hungarians have bent over backwards to ensure the success of this operation and provide every help they could," said a diplomat in Budapest.

Given Hungary's strong interest in seeing a permanent end to the war in former Yugoslavia and the Brownie points it has already won with its would-be Nato partners, Budapest would be unlikely to oppose an extension of the base's use as a staging-post for Bosnia.