Communications Experts to Help in Possible U.N. Pullout From Croatia
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Twenty U.S. military communications experts will go to Croatia to set up equipment to be used in the event NATO assists in the evacuation of U.N. peacekeepers from the region.
About a half-dozen are in Croatia now and the remainder should arrive by the end of the month, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters Tuesday. They will be part of a contingent of 50 experts organized by NATO, he said.
Also on Tuesday, the United States urged Croatia to restore U.N. authority in a Serb-controlled area of the country and launched a joint diplomatic effort with Russia to lower tensions in the former Yugoslav republic.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke called the latest outbreak of fighting in Croatia ``a source of grave concern.″ He also registered doubt in an interview that a cease-fire could be imposed in Bosnia, a neighboring republic torn by conflict.
Now that a four-month cease-fire has expired, Holbrooke said, NATO air strikes are ``a viable part of our options″ and are being discussed within the administration.
The State Department also accused Krajina Serbs of firing missiles with cluster bombs at civilians in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. ``It is contrary to everything that’s decent,″ spokesman Nicholas Burns said. ``So therefore we condemn that kind of attack.″
Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev in a telephone conversation decided their countries and Britain, France and Germany should ``get involved energetically″ in peacemaking in Croatia, Burns said.
The same five nations have tried for three years to end the war in Bosnia without success. ``We’re quite concerned about not only the situation in Bosnia but the new fighting in Croatia,″ Burns said.
Renewed fighting in the former Yugoslavia has touched off concerns of a wider Balkan war, increasing the chance that nations contributing troops to the U.N. peacekeeping force will demand their removal from Croatia and neighboring Bosnia.
``A small number of communicators are moving into Croatia now to set up a communications network to be used in case of a withdrawal,″ Bacon said at the Pentagon.
Late last year, President Clinton offered to put U.S. soldiers on the ground in the region to help NATO evacuate peacekeepers if the war in Bosnia worsened. The Western alliance has been working on an evacuation plan since then.
Bacon also announced that as military personnel are being sent into the region, diplomats are leaving. Five ``non-essential″ employees at the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb and 28 dependents are being evacuated from the city in view of the renewed fighting there, he said.
A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said NATO has been drawing up plans to put communicators into Croatia for some time. Their mission will be to set up telephone, radio and computer communications.
Other NATO nations contributing to the communications group are Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain, the official said. Their exact working location is not being released.
NATO and U.S. officials suggested late last year that a withdrawal of the U.N. forces would require the alliance to send in 30,000 to 45,000 combat troops. Since then, NATO proposals have been restructured and far fewer alliance troops can be expected to take part, officials have said.
But in any case, NATO officials have said that in organizing an evacuation, establishing communications links is one of the alliance’s first priorities.
Marine Gen. Jack Sheehan, who is commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command and of NATO operations in the Atlantic, told reporters at the Pentagon that no military operation was imminent.
``We’ve not seen a request for forces ... at this particular time,″ he said.