U.S. Looks to Turkey to Arm, Train Bosnians
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States will be looking to NATO ally Turkey to lead the international effort to train and arm the out-gunned Bosnian government army, the State Department said.
``Given Turkey’s geographic proximity, given Turkey’s historic and cultural links to the Bosnian people, and given the fact that Turkey is a valued NATO ally, we would expect that Turkey would play a role,″ spokesman Nicholas Burns declared Thursday.
He said the United States is committed to enhancing the Bosnian government’s ability to defend itself after the 60,000-strong NATO-led force, which includes 20,000 Americans, leaves the region.
Although the Bosnian government army outnumbers Bosnian Serb forces, the rebels inherited most of the vast arsenal of the former Serb-led Yugoslav army.
This gave the ethnic Serbs an overwhelming advantage in firepower, mainly in tanks and field artillery, which they used with devastating effect early in the war to capture most of the republic. The Serbs also were able to repulse repeated government attempts to retake territory later.
The peace accord that ended the 3 1/2-year-long war prohibits the arming of either side during the first 90 days of its implementation, and allows delivery only of light weapons during the subsequent three months.
Several NATO countries contributing troops to the Bosnian operation opposed arming government forces. Britain, in particular, has been highly critical of the idea, arguing during the ground war that introducing new arms would destabilize the military balance and provoke Serb retaliation.
But last week, the Republican-controlled Congress voted to approve deploying U.S. troops to Bosnia only if the Clinton administration ensures that the Muslim-Croat army is trained and equipped to the level of its Serb adversaries during the yearlong mission.
Burns said the State Department named Jim Pardew special coordinator for the effort. Pardew was a member of the U.S. diplomatic team that negotiated an end to the conflict during three weeks of talks in Dayton, Ohio.
``This issue of equipping and training the Bosnian government will be an issue that the State Department takes the lead on inside the U.S. government,″ Burns told reporters.
The thorny question of finding money for the weapons that will eventually be delivered to the Bosnians has yet to be settled. Burns noted that talks are under way with a number of European nations.
``We’re looking to Turkey for ideas, for leadership and for partnership in this effort,″ he said.
Turkey ruled Bosnia for four centuries before it was replaced by Austria-Hungary in 1878. Its historic ties to Bosnia are compounded by traditional cultural links with Bosnian Muslims.
As a secular democracy, Turkey also could provide a political counterweight to radical Islamic countries such as Iran, which smuggled weapons to the Bosnians during the war in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.