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Aggressive U.S. Troops Unsettle Bosnians, NATO Allies

January 2, 1996

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles of the 1st Cavalry blew through a Bosnian Serb checkpoint New Year’s Eve at 35 mph, not even slowing down. The Serbs didn’t try to stop them.

The message was clear: The Americans were taking over.

In contrast to U.N. troops, who suffered from conflicting orders and were obstructed by all sides, the Americans and the rest of the NATO-led force are in Bosnia to ``enforce peace.″

Its commanders say they won’t negotiate for permission to pass through checkpoints or to move troops and supplies.

U.S. Gen. George Joulwan, chief of the 60,000-member NATO mission, says the force is coming in ``dukes up″ _ not looking to fight, but ready to if necessary.

One military policeman, leaning out of his vehicle and patting his M-60 machine gun, told a reporter: ``I’m authorized to kill, and I’m ready to do it if I have to.″

That air of toughness has unsettled Bosnians, and even some allies in the NATO-led force.

Capt. Ronny Sandqvist of Sweden, a peacekeeper in Bosnia for two years, noted that Bosnians of all factions fire off guns to celebrate weddings and funerals, and said he’s afraid the American troops will overreact.

``Do not respond at the first small-arms fire,″ said Sandqvist, commander of a motorized infantry company. ``Often, they just try to scare you. Don’t return fire and shoot the first person you see.″

Bosnian Serbs around Sarajevo are particularly wary of the NATO troops. NATO was bombing them just last September, and is enforcing an accord that turns over Serb-held areas of Sarajevo to the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

``I do believe the Americans will try to overcompensate for the embarrassment they suffered in Somalia and that the loss will be taken out on the Bosnian peoples, to feed their ego,″ said Stana Jovanovic, a vendor in the small Serb stronghold of Pale.

The U.N. peacekeepers had conflicting orders and little authority to carry them out, reflecting the basic disagreement among permanent members of the Security Council on how to handle Bosnia.

That left the peacekeepers open to humiliating hostage-taking and abuse from all sides.

Even before the United Nations handed over authority in Bosnia to NATO troops, the Americans began taking over security. They rebuilt the entrance to the Tuzla base, implying U.N. security was lax. They also began to stop and search U.N. vehicles.

The Americans have begun to patrol outside the Tuzla base, in vehicles and on foot.

By contrast, the U.N. troops known as UNPROFOR had to submit a weekly plan to the Bosnian army detailing their proposed activities.

``If we really wanted to do something, it wasn’t UNPROFOR who was going to stop us,″ said an officer of the Bosnian government army, insisting on anonymity. ``They were just decoration.″

The NATO force, known as the Implementation Force or IFOR, has commitments from all sides that they will cooperate.

``Our people are fully aware IFOR will not ask for anything, they will just do it,″ the Bosnian officer said.

NATO officials are concerned about inevitable tests of the authority of the Bosnia force _ when one faction shoots over somebody’s head or refuses to dismantle a roadblock.

So far, no one in the NATO force _ mostly U.S., French and British troops _ has had to use force.

But it hasn’t faced a major challenge. That could come over the fate of non-Serbs missing in Serb-held Sarajevo, a Jan. 19 deadline to pull back from battle lines or when one side has to give up land.

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