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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Croatia: UN Peacekeepers Can Stay

COPENHAGEN -- Facing huge international pressure, Croatia's president has agreed to keep a UN peacekeeping force in his country to prevent an escalation in the Balkan conflict, but said he wants a reduction in the contingent's size and a change in its mandate.

President Franjo Tudjman said he envisages trimming the force from the current 12,000 peacekeepers to 5,000. UN officials say the final number could be closer to 6,000. Tudjman also said their mandate should be changed to include patrolling Croatia's borders.

However rebel Croatian Serbs said Monday they would reject any change in the peacekeepers' role.

"We agree to keep UN troops, but we will not change their mandate, because no one has the right to push us toward Croatia," said Slobodan Jarcevic, special representative of the breakaway Krajina Serb region in Croatia.

The Serbs said UN border patrols would be tantamount to recognizing Croatian authority over Serb-held areas.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Tudjman at the UN poverty summit in Copenhagen, U.S. Vice President Al Gore welcomed the decision to retain the peacekeeping force.

"This is very good news," he said. "The departure of the UN presence from the scene now would lead to full-scale war between Croatian Serbs and government forces."

Gore pledged "full U.S. support" for restoring Croatian control over land lost to the Serbs.

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said that some American troops will be sent temporarily to assist in the planned reduction of UN forces.

"There will be some small number of communications units that go in -- NATO communications units -- that will be useful for assistance. There will be some U.S. [troops] in it, " Perry said.

On his return to the Croatian capital of Zagreb from Copenhagen, Tudjman had said the new agreement would protect Croatia's national strategic interests, and singled out for particular praise the proposed stationing of UN peacekeeping teams along the border. He said UN soldiers there would help preserve Croatian lives.

"The majority of [rebel] Serbs will realize there is no other solution but a peaceful reintegration of the occupied territories," Tudjman said then, in a remark that plainly infuriated the Serbs.

Actively supported by the United States, the Croatian government and UN officials have started talks on a new Security Council mandate for the peacekeepers.

Chris Gunnes, a UN spokesman in Zagreb, said the Security Council "is expected to consider the issue next week."

Tudjman said UN troops could stay in Croatia for a "limited period of time" but did not specify how long.