Bush Asks Europe to Boost Balkans Peacekeeping Role

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Sammon

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia - President Bush yesterday called on Europe to shoulder a greater share of the peacekeeping duties in the Balkans and urged local and international police to quickly take the place of NATO forces so that American troops can go home.

During a visit with U.S. troops in Kosovo, the president also signed a bill boosting military pay, benefits and health care by $1.9 billion. He promised billions more next year, prompting enthusiastic cheers of "Hoo-ah" from troops whose quality of life had declined during the Clinton administration.

"America owes you a decent quality of life," Mr. Bush told 3,000 troops who frequently interrupted him with applause. "When I ran for office, I promised America that help is on the way for the men and women who wear our uniform. Today, I'm proud to say: Help is arriving."

In a separate statement issued during his tour of this American encampment, Mr. Bush argued that the United States should shift more peacekeeping responsibilities to Europe now that the six former republics of Yugoslavia have made strides toward European-style democracy.

"As the people and countries of the Balkans move closer to Europe, it is only natural that Europe assume increasing leadership and responsibility," the president said. "We must step up our efforts to transfer responsibilities for public security from combat forces to specialized units, international police, and ultimately local authorities.

"NATO's commitment to the peace of this region is enduring, but the stationing of our forces here should not be indefinite," he added. "Our goal is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining, when local, democratically elected authorities can assume full responsibility, and when NATO's forces can go home."

Mr. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice strongly suggested during last year's presidential campaign that a Bush administration would pull U.S. troops out of the Balkans. President Clinton first deployed troops there in 1995, insisting they would be home within a year.

But after taking office, Mr. Bush acquiesced to European demands that the United States continue peacekeeping operations indefinitely. The president assured skittish allies that America would not leave the Balkans until European peacekeepers were also ready to depart.

While restating that commitment yesterday, Mr. Bush sought to speed the return of Americans by calling for all NATO troops to be replaced by international police and local authorities. To that end, he said "we must reorganize and re-energize our efforts to build civil institutions and promote rule of law."

"We understand that America's contribution is essential, both militarily and politically," Mr. Bush said. "We will not draw down our forces in Bosnia or Kosovo precipitously or unilaterally. We came in together, and we will go out together."

But the president emphasized that democracy has begun to take hold in the former Yugoslav republics and other nations in the region since U. …