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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Forces Secure Sarajevo Utility Sites

SARAJEVO -- A secret operation by French peacekeeping troops has secured key gas, water and electricity plants in Sarajevo as a precaution against sabotage during the Moslem-led government's takeover of Serb districts.

French NATO spokesman Major Herve Gourmelon said the operation had been carried out early Tuesday morning "in order to prevent desperate measures by certain [Serb] elements."

NATO officials said four platoons of about 30 men, backed by armored personnel carriers, took up positions in the early morning at four installations in Serb-held areas. French forces have responsibility for Sarajevo.

The troops moved in to guard a gas regulation station at Butila, a water pump at Bacevo near the city's airport and two electricity installations at Rejlevo and Blazuj.

NATO has repeatedly said sabotage is a major worry in Sarajevo and the French operation reflects mounting concern about prospects of meeting the Feb. 3 deadline specified in the Dayton peace deal for the takeover of Serb districts.

Doubts also were growing that Bosnia's former warring parties would meet Friday's deadline to release their prisoners of war -- another key element of the Dayton accords.

The POW standoff took another turn for the worse Tuesday when the scheduled release of 350 Serb and Moslem prisoners failed to take place.

"As far as I understand it, the prisoner releases will not happen, because the Bosnian government is sticking to its position," said Pierre Gauthier of the International Committee of the Red Cross, charged with supervising the releases.

Under the terms of the Bosnian peace agreement, all sides must release their remaining prisoners by Friday. If they do not do so, they will be in violation of the peace deal -- posing a serious problem for the NATO-led peace Implementation Force.

The Bosnian government says 24,000 Moslems are missing, and many of these are feared dead.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata outlined plans Tuesday to repatriate and resettle more than 2 million displaced Bosnians and said it would be her agency's toughest task yet in former Yugoslavia.

Opening a one-day meeting in Geneva, she also urged European states such as Germany to be patient and not start sending home Bosnian refugees. The UN high commissioner is planning what it calls a "phased, orderly repatriation" that could take up to two years to complete.

The program will start with the return or resettlement of 1 million Bosnians displaced within Bosnia, then focus on an estimated 670,000 in neighboring former Yugoslav republics.