February 13, 1996
Web posted at: 3:35 p.m EST (2035 GMT)
From Correspondent Christiane Amanpour in Bosnia and Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon
OLOVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Young U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint in northern Bosnia are supposed to be on the lookout for suspected war criminals. But, the troops say they're not sure they would recognize even the most notorious ones. (102K AIFF sound or 102K WAV sound)
The role of the combat troops from the Army's First Armored Division is to reinforce an American base near Olovo. The NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) soldiers also are being asked to detain accused war criminals if they see them.
But NATO commanders say troops manning checkpoints have photographs of only 15 of the 52 indicted war criminals, and those pictures are of poor quality.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry says troops will be given "better information" so they can spot suspected war criminals who pass through NATO checkpoints in Bosnia, but will not not conduct "manhunts" for suspects.
There have been reports that Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic made it through a NATO checkpoint.
"The purpose of the checkpoints of the IFOR, of the NATO forces there, is to prevent weapons from going into or out of the zone of separation, and it is for military forces, so it's looking for weapons and military forces. It's not there to impede freedom of movement of civilians, it is not there to set up a border between the two entities there," Perry said.
A senior defense official insisted, though, that the United States has no evidence that Karadzic actually passed unchallenged through NATO checkpoints, but admitted he could have been waved through routinely.
"All we have is reports, based on Bosnian Serb claims."
Bosnian Serbs condemned NATO's delivery Monday of two Serb military officers to United Nations custody in The Hague, Netherlands. A war crimes court is expected to question them to determine if they should stand trial.
A Bosnian Serb leader said it sets a dangerous precedent, and "gravely jeopardizes further implementation of the peace agreement."
The United States insists that removing war criminals from power is essential for peace. It is a position shared by soldiers on the ground in Bosnia.
"If we let them go, things are going to go back to the way they were," said Lt. Louis Manning, a platoon leader. "Definitely we have to apprehend them."
IFOR has shied away from this dilemma while it builds up its troops in Bosnia and separates the warring sides -- its main mission. And it's a mission based on good relations with all sides. So far so good, and IFOR wants it to stay that way as long as its troops stay in Bosnia.
The American mission is not meant to last more than a year, and some troops fear that when they go the fighting will resume. Others are convinced their presence is an opportunity for peace, and without them, peace would have no chance at all.
The U.S. troops based in Olovo separate the Bosnians from the Serbs. The town came under heavy Serb shelling during the war and the damage is an eye opener for the new arrivals.
Some of the veterans who were skeptical at first now say they know why they are there.
"You see, we're providing the security for them (Bosnians) to function again," said Capt. Will Davis. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)
Indeed, each day more civilians feel secure enough to come back to see what has become of the lives they left behind.
"The American troops are very welcome," said a man named Edo. "For the first time in four years I can come home without having to fight for it."
While people are getting used to peace, many wonder whether IFOR's one year mission will be enough time to let the sensation sink in.
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