First NATO Troops Arrive in Former Yugoslavia
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ In a near-freezing drizzle that hinted at the winter ahead, the first NATO troops landed in the Balkans Monday to begin setting up a peace mission that will bring 20,000 American soldiers into the Bosnian conflict.
Three camouflaged British C-130 Hercules transport planes touched down in Sarajevo carrying 28 NATO soldiers: French, British, Belgians and the first two Americans.
``We’ll be setting up the headquarters for the bigger force to come down,″ said Sgt. Matthew Chipman, of Beardstown, Ill., who arrived with Sgt. Todd Eichmann, of Kansas City, Mo.
In Croatia, 56 British communications experts arrived in the port city of Split from Brueggen, Germany. Some will stay at Split, a key transit point for Bosnia. Others will head for Sarajevo and Tuzla.
Defense Secretary William Perry ordered 3,800 American reservists Monday to prepare for duty in Bosnia and U.S. troops already in Germany got ready to move into Hungary and set up staging bases.
The 2,600-soldier multinational ``enabling troops″ moving into Bosnia and Croatia will set up communications, plan transportation and arrange supplies in the 10 days before the signing of the agreement to end 3 1/2 years of war in the former Yugoslavia.
After Balkan leaders sign their accord Dec. 14 in Paris, NATO will start dispatching its 60,000 peace-enforcing troops, one-third of which will be Americans.
Some lawmakers have concerns about U.S. participation. Members of Congress who visited Sarajevo over the weekend said both the Bosnian government and Serbian leadership had promised them U.S. soldiers will be safe, but that Bosnian Serb objections still worried them.
As part of the vanguard, the U.S. is sending 735 soldiers to Bosnia and 730 to Croatia, according to Pentagon figures. Defense Secretary William Perry said Monday in Washington that the entire enabling force would be in Bosnia or on its way by the end of the week.
But Chipman said it was undetermined when the rest of the advance troops would arrive.
``Everybody is hoping as soon as possible,″ the sergeant said. He also said he and Eichmann left their base in Augsburg, Germany, so quickly he didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his parents.
One soldier, part of a seven-member British logistics team in Sarajevo, said that serving with the NATO force would be better that his previous work as a U.N. peacekeeper in Split because he is now authorized to use force.
``It’s the same job,″ Sgt. Eric Johnson said. ``But it’s easier this way.″
Americans played supporting roles in the U.N. peacekeeping mission that the NATO-led force will replace _ running a field hospital in Zagreb, Croatia, helping out with logistics in Bosnia and watching over Macedonia, the only republic to secede peacefully from Yugoslavia.
But these were low-risk jobs. The U.S. soldiers who will form the backbone of the NATO-led peace force will be potential targets, primarily of rebel Serbs unhappy with the terms of the peace agreement.
In the latest challenge to the international community and to the accord negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, an assembly of Sarajevo Serbs announced Monday that it plans a Dec. 12 referendum on the agreement ``during which the population of Serb Sarajevo will have a chance to make their views known.″
The agreement turns control of Sarajevo over to a new Muslim-Croat federation, and Serbs in the capital are outraged and terrified by the prospect of being ruled by their former enemies.
``The assembly does not accept Muslim-Croat rule over the territory of the Serb city of Sarajevo,″ said a declaration published after the meeting.
Also Monday, France ordered its general in charge of U.N. peacekeeping in Sarajevo back to Paris after he said the Dayton peace accord was unfair to Serbs in the Bosnian capital.
Gen. Jean-Rene Bachelet said that under the accord, Serbs in Sarajevo would have to choose between ``the suitcase and the coffin.″
Bosnian Serbs have demonstrated daily against the agreement and about 30,000 have signed a petition against it. U.N. officials have been harassed and an aid worker detained.