NATO Patrols Sarajevo Suburbs Serb Troops Remain despite Protests of Muslim-Led Government

Article excerpt

NATO boosted its patrols in Sarajevo's suburbs Sunday, in part to soothe the government's anger at the continued presence of Serb police officers in neighborhoods now under its control.

The warring parties largely met a deadline Saturday to pull out of land promised to their former enemies under the Bosnian peace plan.

But Serb police officers remained in Sarajevo over the protests of the Muslim-led Bosnian government. It formally took control of the entire capital, including five suburbs where tens of thousands of Serb civilians remain.

A senior Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said some of the Serb police officers were former army members who merely changed uniform.

Late Saturday, senior NATO commanders and international officials charged with implementing the Bosnian peace accord agreed to let Bosnian Serb police officers remain in Sarajevo's suburbs for 45 days.

"We shall have a phased transition," said Michael MacLay, assistant to Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister in charge of implementing the civilian aspects of the U.S.-brokered peace deal.

But the Bosnian government said in a statement Sunday that "there must be no armed persons except the international police forces" and NATO soldiers in Sarajevo and its suburbs.

U.S. Soldiers Involved

NATO soldiers have been patrolling front lines and Serb-held areas since the 60,000-member NATO-led force began arriving in December. On Sunday, they increased the number of foot and vehicle patrols in the Serb suburbs, said Lt. Col. Mark Rayner, a NATO spokesman.

Although Sarajevo is in a French zone of responsibility, on Sunday afternoon 10 U.S. soldiers, wearing body armor and carrying M-16 assault rifles, moved through the drizzle, distributing handbills and putting up large yellow posters that explained the agreement to the Serbs.

The stepped-up patrols apparently also were meant to deter sporadic attacks on NATO-led forces and to persuade Serbs residents to stay. From 10,000 to 12,000 Serbs, 15 percent to 25 percent of the total, have already fled the suburbs.

Two British soldiers suffered slight facial injuries from sniper fire Saturday while driving in the suburb of Ilidza, where in a separate incident a U.S. vehicle was hit by five rounds. There were no casualties.

The Serbs who fled Sarajevo feared reprisals under Muslim-led government control and said they could never live together again with their enemies. International officials have sought to soothe these fears and have encouraged highly publicized meetings between government and Serb officials to allay Serb concerns. …