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NATO Pledges to Stay in Bosnia

Europe: Even if U.N. mission ends because of Washington's veto, alliance says, it will keep its peacekeepers in the Balkan nation.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — NATO said Monday that it is committed to continued peacekeeping operations here even if a dispute over the new International Criminal Court forces an end to the U.N. mission in the Balkan nation.

But government and international officials said a U.S. veto Sunday of a renewed mandate for the U.N. operation threatens to undo some of the accomplishments of seven years of international efforts at nation-building.

In a confrontation over demands by the United States that its citizens be exempt from the jurisdiction of the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, which formally came into existence Monday, America on Sunday at the U.N. Security Council vetoed a routine extension of the U.N. mission here. The mission's main focus is to create a professional police department of 20,000 that would serve as Bosnia-Herzegovina's primary security force, eventually replacing the foreign peacekeeping troops now stationed here.

The veto also raised widespread questions about the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeeping force. The alliance sought to dispel those doubts Monday after a hastily called meeting in Brussels.

"The alliance remains fully committed to Bosnia-Herzegovina, based on the Dayton [peace] accords," NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel said. "The allies are fully confident that there is a strong and very valid mandate" for the 18,000-strong peacekeeping operation, known as SFOR, he added.

The main international administrative structure in Bosnia, the Office of the High Representative, headed by Paddy Ashdown, also derives its authority over Bosnian political and government matters from the 1995 Dayton peace deal. Its mandate is not threatened by the U.S. veto of a six-month extension of the U.N. mission, but its work could be made more difficult.

The dispute raised fears among ordinary people in Bosnia that warfare could erupt if international administrators, police and soldiers are withdrawn too soon.

"There are still thousands of war criminals at large in this country, and they are just waiting for them to leave," said Amir Muratovic, 64, a retired locksmith. "I feel there would be war again without them. Without them, this country is very fragile."

Bosnia is still torn by ethnic hatreds among Muslims, Croats and Serbs after the 1992-95 war. The United Nations' 1,500-strong police training mission, which includes 46 U.S. members, has tried to promote multiethnic cooperation and weed out police officers tainted by war crimes, corruption or incompetence. But U.N. officials say local police remain undisciplined, disorganized and probably incapable of maintaining law and order during critical national elections scheduled for October.

After the U.S. veto, the Security Council agreed Sunday night to extend the U.N. mission by 72 hours. Diplomats said this was to give leaders of the international effort time to reorganize its operations.

U.S. Firm on Court

U.S. diplomats at the United Nations said Monday that the American position on the international court and the Bosnia mission would not change, though the Security Council has scheduled formal consultations today.

"It will be very disruptive, it's clear, no matter what is done," said Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

If the mission was dismantled, the General Assembly would need to appropriate special funds "for the orderly phasing out of the mission," including compensation for canceled job and supply contracts. The costs could run "into the millions of dollars," Eckhard said.

Ashdown, the highest-ranking international official in Bosnia, spoke with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell for 10 minutes Monday to express concern about the veto, Ashdown's office said.

Ashdown "said he hoped the U.S. administration would not do anything that placed at risk the huge progress toward peace and stability that Bosnia and Herzegovina has achieved since the war," the statement said.

Jacques Klein, head of the U.N. police training mission, said Monday that he hoped members of the Security Council will realize that "we're basically shooting ourselves in the foot" if the mission is ended.

He warned that the rule of law in Bosnia could be weakened, that SFOR soldiers could be drawn into police work and that refugees might be deterred from returning to their homes.

As for the October election, he asked: "What message are you sending to the nationalist parties three months before the elections? Does this undermine the moderates? What does it say about the commitment of the international community to consolidate peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina or throughout the Balkans?"

The U.N. effort to monitor and mentor local police was scheduled to be taken over by the European Union on Jan. 1, and some officials said Monday that it is possible the takeover could be accelerated--but that it seemed unlikely it could be moved up to Thursday.

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