Bosnia's Lack of Police Gives US Commander the Creeps

Low funds for civilian program pushes NATO into 'mission creep'

EUROPEAN mediator Carl Bildt made a quick stop at a Brussels bank last week, withdrew a wad of German marks, and sped to the airport for a flight to Sarajevo.

A stopgap advance from the European Parliament, the cash is all Mr. Bildt has to begin his massive job of organizing elections, billion-dollar reconstruction projects, and an international police force called for by the civilian provisions of the Bosnia peace agreement.

More than two months after brokering the Nov. 21 accord, neither the United States, its allies, nor any other states have given Bildt money, hobbling the start of initiatives central to the agreement's success.

Bildt's funding problem is just one of the first tests Western military and civilian officials have encountered as they begin to implement the plan to end Europe's worst bloodshed since the end of World War II.

For the US-led NATO Implementation Force, the biggest challenge so far has been the abductions in late December by Bosnian Serb police of Sarajevo residents driving in and out of the capital. Sixteen hostages were freed Thursday after pressure was put on the Serbs. But the arrests have sparked frictions between IFOR and the Muslim-led Bosnian government over the question of freedom of movement.

Unhindered civilian movement is the heart of the peace plan. Without it, there can be no restoration of trade and economic prosperity or a repatriation of the estimated 2 million refugees. Lack of free movement also will block reconciliation, ensuring that the partition of Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb republic becomes a permanent ethnic divide and a source of future turmoil.

The Bosnian government says it recognizes that IFOR cannot guarantee freedom of movement throughout the country and that it will be some time before refugees feel confident enough to return to areas controlled by their erstwhile foes.

"We know they don't have enough people to provide the same freedom of movement here and in the whole country," says Hasan Muratovic, the Bosnian minister for relations with IFOR and the UN. "But we expect freedom of movement on major roads so we can communicate. We expect full freedom of movement in Greater Sarajevo."

US Adm. Leighton Smith, the IFOR commander, disagrees. He contends that ensuring freedom of movement is the responsibility of the rival factions and the international police force that Bildt is due to form by the end of the month.

"Admiral Smith is quite clear that IFOR cannot be dragged down into a police role," says British Brig. Andrew Cumming, an IFOR spokesman. "He is quite sensitive about what is going on in [Sarajevo] at the moment. He is equally sensitive that if he is dragged down into a police role ... he will be unable to accomplish his mission."

Some Western officials privately criticize the Bosnian government, accusing it of trying to appease domestic critics of the peace accord by pressuring IFOR into assuming duties it is not obliged or wants to fulfill. "Whenever there is a problem, they [the government] go immediately to the press and make accusations, and that is not a very helpful way to proceed," says a Western diplomat.

The peace plan is facing other obstacles. Outbursts of violence between Muslims and Croats have fueled tensions in the southern city of Mostar.

IFOR has also fired its first shots in anger, with Italian peacekeepers in a Sarajevo suburb returning fire when an unknown gunman wounded one of their colleagues on Thursday. At least six other IFOR troops have been wounded by mines..

The difficulties have been offset by positive developments that IFOR officials say give them strong cause for optimism. Asserts Brigadier Cumming: "All parties continue to demonstrate their willingness to comply with the peace agreement."

IFOR officials say that in some areas, the warring factions are ahead of schedule in withdrawing troops and weapons from front-line positions. The peace accord mandates that the withdrawals be completed by Jan. 19. The factions opened talks in Vienna last week on the plan's arms control requirements, exchanging lists of military hardware.

In another development, IFOR officials say foreign Islamic fundamentalists who fought on the Muslim-led Bosnian government side have begun leaving the country. Numbering an estimated 150 to 200, the so-called Mujahideen must be gone by the Jan. 19 deadline.

Cumming, however, adds that along with some Mujahideen, undisclosed numbers of regular troops from Croatia and paramilitary fighters and regular soldiers from Serbia have yet to be withdrawn from Bosnia.

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