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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Holds Transfer of Weapons To Bosnia

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration Thursday said it would hold up a long-planned transfer of $100 million in arms to Bosnia's Moslem-Croat federation until the Bosnian government removes a senior defense official who is reported to have close ties with Iran.

The American demand for the resignation of Bosnian Deputy Defense Minister Hasan Cengic came as a chartered ship with 45 M-60 battle tanks, 80 M-11 armored personnel carriers, and 15 UH-1h helicopters arrived at the Croatian port of Ploce. U.S. officials said the weapons would remain under U.S. control until the Bosnians agreed to several demands, the most important of which is the dismissal of Cengic.

The arms shipment forms a key part of the "equip-and-train" program announced last year by the United States that is designed to create a rough military balance between the forces of the Moslem-Croat federation and the Serbian entity, known as the Serb Republic. The program has been hamstrung by repeated delays, many of them caused by bickering between the Moslems and the Croats over the creation of an integrated federation army.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the equipment would only be transferred to storage sites when several "issues of concern to the United States are resolved on a satisfactory basis by the Bosnian government." A U.S. official later specified that the main U.S. demand was the resignation of Cengic, who was appointed to the post of deputy defense minister last summer.

An Islamic cleric, Cengic is a longtime associate of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and was a co-defendent with Izetbegovic in his 1983 trial for fomenting Moslem nationalism in the former Yugoslavia. He has traveled frequently to Iran, and served as the go-between for the large-scale smuggling of Iranian weapons into Bosnia during the war. He has praised Iran in public statements and supported the idea of a separate Moslem army.

In addition to Cengic's removal from office, Washington is also using the shipment of weapons to pressure the Moslems and Croats to speed up implementation of a defense law, which provides for the integration of their armed forces.

In a separate move, the State Department Thursday called on neighboring Croatia to surrender a war-crimes suspect, Ivica Rajic, who was reportedly seen in a state-owned hotel in the Dalmatian port of Split. An arrest warrant has been issued for Rajic by the United Nations War Crimes tribunal in The Hague, on the grounds that he led the massacre of 16 Moslem civilians in 1993.

?In Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a senior Bosnian Serb official has suggested for the first time that Serbs indicted for alleged war crimes could be extradited to the international war-crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Bosnian Serb Justice Minister Marko Arsovic, in a recent interview, also said Serb prosecutors have interrogated indicted Serb war criminals living in Bosnian Serb territory in preparation for their possible arrest and extradition.

His comments illustrated what appears to be a tactical shift in the Bosnian Serb attitude toward the war-crimes tribuanal, according to tribunal officials, from one of defiance to a more conciliatory approach.