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Will there be new NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia?

Smith

July 20, 1996
Web posted at: 10:55 p.m. EDT (0255 GMT)

From Correspondent Vicki Barker

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- NATO will decide whether to replace its peacekeeping force in Bosnia with fresh troops, but not until after the September 14 Bosnian elections.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Saturday, IFOR commander Adm. Leighton Smith said the North Atlantic Council will assess the atmosphere of tensions -- or lack thereof -- following the voting.

The 60,000-strong peace implementation force, known as IFOR, was created in 1995 to monitor the peace agreement in the war-torn republic. Its mandate expires December 20.

Smith said although some overlap may be likely, the follow-up force would replace outgoing NATO troops. If that happens, he stressed the need for a clearly focused mission with enough manpower and resources to do the job. Any new force must operate under the same rules of engagement and mandate that IFOR has had.

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Sources have said that scenarios for a possible replacement NATO mission will focus on a more streamlined force, with a smaller number of troops and a smaller percentage of U.S. troops.

The timetable for IFOR's withdrawal will be decided after the elections, although IFOR will remain at a constant troop level until September 14, Smith said. How rapidly troop numbers decrease after that will depend on the post-election environment. Smith ends his command on July 31.

On the subject of war criminals, Smith once again stressed that IFOR does not have a mandate to pursue indicted war-crime suspects.

He said rather than focus on alleged war crimes by high-profile suspects such as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, the international community and parties to the peace agreement should focus on bringing all war criminals to justice.

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