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Europe

EU to Head Peacekeeping in Bosnia

The European Union announced Friday it plans to replace NATO's peacekeeping troops with its own in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of the year, as part of a new EU paramilitary force.

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The EU will take over peacekeeping reins from NATO in Bosnia

EU defense ministers will be discussing the plan submitted by Admiral Rainer Feist, military chief of the EU mission as well as deputy supreme commander of NATO's Armed Forces, during a meeting in Noordwijk in the Netherlands this week. The troops will be deployed for peacekeeping missions in volatile regions recovering from war like the Balkans. They will not be used in conflict zones.

After nine years of peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO will end its mission there in December 2004. However, not all of the soldiers from NATO's SFOR stabilization force will actually leave the region. Most of them will just gain a new insignia entitled "ALTHEA", the name of the military and police mission, expected to include a couple of hundred soldiers, that will be directed by the European Union. It will mark the largest-ever military deployment of the EU.

Collaboration between NATO and EU

Admiral Feist said that the most obvious change would come about when the Americans, currently stationed in Tuzla with their own task force, would withdraw a large section of their troops.

"Troops from different countries led by Finland will be deployed there. Beyond that, it's up to the individual countries to decide what will change for their contingents," the admiral said, speaking at NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

With the new plan, all that will change in Bosnia is a shift in political responsibility, according to Feist. The European Union, which will not have its own troops, will sort of "borrow" personnel and equipment from NATO.

"It's really simple," Feist said. "NATO headquarters, called SHAPE which is responsible for all NATO operations, will simply take over a further operation for the EU," he said.

Any other solution would be simply too expensive and illogical, since most of EU nations are also NATO members, said Admiral Feist. He added that parallel structures would simply be superfluous.

Sarajevo welcomes plan

According to Feist, politicians in Sarajevo are quite happy with the plan, particularly because they feel it could help them eventually get their foot in the EU door.

ALTHEA will be the EU' s third military action, after a police mission in Macedonia and a brief stint in Congo. The perfect task for a combined police and military mission to Bosnia is to maintain stability in the country and make sure internal structures take shape as they should, noted Feist.

The number of the troops is said to be reduced from 9,000 soldiers to 7,000. Furthermore, a uniform army for all three ethnic groups--Bosnian Muslim, Croatians, and Serbs-- is supposed to be created, A small NATO office, which will help Bosnian officials to build up their military will remain in Sarajevo. NATO will also continue to hunt for war criminals.

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