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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Troops Reject Role of Police Officers

SARAJEVO -- In its first 3 1/2 weeks, NATO's peacekeeping force in Bosnia has grown daily, but its mandate seems to be shrinking just as steadily.


With military commanders defining their mission in increasingly narrow terms, and with the civilian arm of the mission unable to make up the difference, several important provisions of the U.S.-brokered peace accord have been left unfulfilled. Chief among them is security for ordinary Bosnians traumatized by war and looking for relief.


The daily mantra from the Implementation Force, or IFOR, which will be composed of 60,000 U.S. and European troops, is that it is not a police force.


Even as Bosnian Moslems driving on NATO-opened roads were being illegally snatched by Bosnian Serb police, and Bosnian Serbs fired an anti-tank rocket into a crowded Sarajevo streetcar, IFOR spokesmen insisted it was not their job to prevent or to investigate what they termed acts of terrorism and minor crime.


For the Bosnian Serbs, too, the security issue is a critical one. Serb-held suburbs around Sarajevo will be turned over to Moslem-Croat control Friday. Serbian forces in that area must withdraw, leaving NATO troops as the only armed force until Moslem-Croat authorities enter in March.


"It is not our job to do low-level police work," IFOR spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mark Rayner said.


The NATO-led force defines its mission as a military one: separating the three armies that have fought since 1991. Under the peace plan drafted in Dayton, Ohio, police matters fall under civilian administrator Carl Bildt's purview, IFOR officials said.


Security for Bosnian civilians lies in the hands of "the parties" -- i.e., the Bosnian Moslem, Croat and Serb forces who have spent most of the last four years killing each other.


This means that Moslems and Serbs must depend on their enemies' police forces for safety, and investigations into attacks will be done by the side whose forces likely committed the attack.


NATO also has not picked up some of the tasks that the UN performed, such as, food and aid delivery escorts for humanitarian organizations.


IFOR says it will create a secure environment to permit aid agencies to work freely. Yet the pursuit of war criminals and the investigation of mass grave sites have also found IFOR eagerly shifting the responsibility to "the parties," as the Dayton accord requires. Such activities are not happening.


On Sunday, Admiral Leighton W. Smith, commander of NATO forces in Bosnia, said, "our forces are not [here] to pursue indicted war criminals. Investigating mass graves is not part of my job. Establishing an environment in which others can do their job is part of my job."