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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Orders Iranians' Ouster

SARAJEVO -- The NATO-led peace force demanded Tuesday that the Bosnian government expel foreign forces and called on all parties to release prisoners of war.

U.S. Navy Captain Mark van Dyke, NATO's chief spokesman, said the peacekeeping force has evidence that foreign soldiers are still in the country helping to train Bosnian forces.

"They are in violation of the peace agreement ... and we want to see immediate action to remove those forces,'' he said.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic said in letter made public Monday that 50 to 60 former Iranian soldiers, now civilians because their El Mujaheed military unit was disbanded in January, remain in the country. "It is not in accordance with the moral code of our nation to expel people who have fought with us and have no place to go because they cannot return to their countries,'' he said in a letter to U.S. senators Robert Dole and Joseph Lieberman. The letter did not say what prevented the Iranians from going home.

The senators had sent Izetbegovic a letter demanding that military cooperation between Iran and Bosnia be stopped.

Izetbegovic and other senior Bosnian army officials claimed that no Iranian soldiers or instructors are working with the Bosnian army.

NATO sources said that scores of Iranians, mostly top military instructors, remain in the country under the umbrella of the Agency for Investigation and Documentation, an intelligence service started in January and directly responsible to Izetbegovic.

In the letter, Izetbegovic claimed that the foundation and the work of the agency is in accordance with the Dayton agreement.

Van Dyke said the continuing presence of foreign forces and failure to release prisoners were the two main obstacles to full military compliance with the peace accord.

The Bosnian government released 109 Serb POWs late Saturday. Bosnian Croats released 10 Bosnian Serbs from a prison in Mostar on Monday.

Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, criticized the Bosnian Serbs, who have not released any POWs recently. Deputy High Representative Michael Steiner, whose office is in charge of implementing civilian aspects of the peace agreement, said the Bosnian Serbs had agreed to release 28 prisoners by Tuesday morning. But Bonefeld said there was no word of any release.

According to the ICRC, a total of 152 prisoners were scheduled for release by all parties. Another 62 prisoners were being held by the former warring parties for investigation of war crimes.

The ICRC is continuing to visit about 100 detainees, including 73 under investigation for war crimes.

The international community, at a weekend meeting in Moscow, threatened economic sanctions against the former warring parties if the prisoners are not freed by Sunday. The United States has repeatedly warned the Bosnian government that it will hold up $100 million to train and re-equip the Bosnian army unless foreign forces are expelled.

Since the NATO-led force took over in late December, it has maintained a cease-fire and separated the combatants. On Monday, NATO announced it would shift its emphasis to assisting in civilian projects once the last military milestone in the peace accord is reached -- the withdrawal of all forces to barracks and all heavy weapons to storage areas by April 18.