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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First NATO Troops Arrive in Yugoslavia

SARAJEVO -- British and U.S. soldiers landed in former Yugoslavia on Monday to lay the groundwork for a huge NATO peace mission that will plant American combat troops on war-wracked European soil for the first time since World War II.

Hazy Adriatic winter sunshine met the 56 British communications experts from the 7th Signal Regiment who arrived at the Croatian port city of Split from Brueggen, Germany.

Some will stay at Split, a key transit point for Bosnia. Others planned to head for Sarajevo and for Tuzla, the north Bosnian city that will be the main headquarters of the 20,000 Americans participating in the 60,000-strong NATO-led force.

"These are the first definite NATO troops," said Paul Elmer, a British UN spokesman for the Split arrivals, who came 10 days before a meeting in Paris gives expected final approval to NATO's "Operation Endeavor."

The first NATO soldiers arrived in former Yugoslavia amid increasing fears that they could become targets, of rebel Serbs unhappy with the terms of the peace agreement.

On Saturday, Bosnian Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic called for a reconsideration of the transfer of control over Serb areas around Sarajevo to a new Moslem-Croat federation, as outlined in the peace accord signed earlier this month in Dayton, Ohio.

Speaking to his troops, Mladic said Serbs will never permit themselves to be ruled by "butchers," referring to the Moslems and Croats they fought for more than 3 1/2 years.

Last week the French UN commander in Sarajevo, General Jean-Rene Bachelet, also criticized the Dayton agreement in a French paper, saying its failure to provide security for Serb citizens due to come under Moslem-Croat rule threatened to make it unworkable.

His comments caused an uproar and on Saturday he apologized, saying his remarks had not been intended for publication. However on Sunday, French Defense Minister Charles Millon said Bachelet had been recalled. He did not make clear whether Bachelet would be replaced or would continue his tour of duty.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, speaking on U.S. television, emphasized that the peace terms agreed on in Dayton "will not be changed" to meet the objections of Bosnian Serbs about the future of Sarajevo.

He said NATO forces do not expect organized resistance from the Serbs. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who helped broker the accord over Bosnian Serb objections, "understands he has a responsibility to get them under control and we expect him to carry out that responsibility," Christopher said.

Members of the U.S. Congress said Sunday both the Bosnian and Serbian leadership had promised them U.S. soldiers will be safe, but that the objections of Bosnian Serbs still worried them.

Bosnian Serbs have demonstrated daily against the agreement and about 30,000 have signed a petition against it.

In the latest challenge to the Dayton accord and the international community, 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." (AP, Reuters)