US will send troops to new Bosnia force

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The United States confirmed yesterday that it would provide up to one- third of a follow-on Nato force in Bosnia

The decision, which had been expected, sets the seal on a new force of some kind for Bosnia for the coming year. It came as the nations involved in Bosnia met in Paris to examine other aspects of the former Yugoslavia.

The new multinational follow-on force will replace the present 60,000- member Implementation Force (Ifor). Nato peacekeepers, including about 15,000 US. troops, are set to pull out by the end of the year.

Nato's Secretary-General said in Washington that the overall force would come from about 30 countries and be as large as 30,000 troops. His "best guess", he said, is that there will be 6,000 to 10,000 Americans.

"I can't guarantee it, but that's my feeling," Javier Solana said, after meeting with US officials, including Vice President, Al Gore.

The decision will create some continuity in Bosnia, underlined by the conference in Paris. It agreed that the authority and powers of Carl Bildt, the international community's High Representative to Bosnia, are to be increased and the post will be maintained for a further two years to oversee the transition to civilian government and a durable peace in Bosnia.

France, as host of yesterday's Bosnia meeting, was concerned to keep official pro- ceedings on course and set the guiding principles for the two-year "consolidation period" in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Among them is a 13-point set of priorities governing weapons control and reduction, the formation of a civilian police force, human rights guarantees, freedom of movement, the safe return of refugees and "full cooperation" with the International War Crimes tribunal.

While all participants stres-sed the progress since last year, Mr Bildt and international representatives expressed "concern" that insufficient progress had been made in important areas. They were particularly unhappy about the time being taken to form civil institutions in Bosnia, starting with a government.

In yesterday's "guidelines", the Bosnian presidency pledged "as a high priority to establish all the joint institutions provided for in the Constitution and make them fully operational as soon as possible" The guidelines also included pointed reminders that provision of aid could depend on implementation of the peace agreement.

"There is a link," they said, "between the availability of international financial assistance and the degree to which all the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina fully implement the peace agreement, including co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal."

As High Representative, Mr Bildt is to have his role "reinforced", so that he chairs all "key" meetings with agencies working on the ground, he will be acknowledged as the "final authority" where there are conflicts in interpreting aspects of the peace accords relating to civilian matters.

He will also have the authority to make "recommendations" to the Bosnian auth- orities. His staff is also likely to be increased. Whether Mr Bildt's 12-month mandate will be extended has not yet been discussed, but it appears to be likely.

The meeting in Paris is to be followed by a conference in London in three weeks' time to consider how the principles agreed yesterday will be put into practice. It also agreed to hold municipal elections.