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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Show of Force Ends Croat Standoff

HADZICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Heavily armed NATO troops threatened force Wednesday and persuaded Croat police to move out of a Serb-held area of Sarajevo, where their presence threatened to ignite Bosnia's simmering ethnic tensions.

About 100 French troops equipped with 20 armored personnel carriers mounted with heavy machine guns or cannon rumbled into the western suburb of Hadzici overnight, after 18 Croat police moved into the local police station, said Lieutenant Colonel Richard Pernod, a NATO spokesman.

After a tense standoff, the 18 left half an hour before Hadzici officially transferred from the Bosnian Serbs to control by the Moslem-Croat federation that was awarded all of Sarajevo under Bosnia's fragile peace accord.

The French were ready to use force, as authorized by the Dayton accord, said Navy Captain Mark Van Dyke, a NATO spokesman.

Shortly after the Croats left the police station, a bomb exploded just as the ethnically mixed federation police -- 50 Moslems, 15 Serbs and five Croats -- entered the building. Windows blew out, but no one was hurt. More explosives found at the scene were defused.

Thousands of Bosnians -- most of them non-Serbs who fled Hadzici or were expelled when the Serbs took it over -- clogged the main road into the suburb in anticipation of the hand-over to federation police. They and the federation force arrived to an almost completely deserted scene. Some houses were stripped by departing Serbs. Others still smoldered after being set ablaze.

Trouble began when the 18 Croats entered the police station at Hadzici. The Croats joined Serb police at the station, immediately set Sarajevo buzzing with rumors of a joint Serb-Croat maneuver against the Moslems, who are fiercely suspicious of both the other ethnic groups.

The origin of the 18 Croat police who showed up at Hadzici was disputed Wednesday. Initially, they were said to have come from Kiseljak, just west of Sarajevo, and Mostar, the southwestern city where Moslems and Croats remain bitterly divided by the fratricidal battles they fought in 1993 and 1994.

Both towns are dominated by Bosnian Croat hardliners who dislike the federation. Both cities also house war profiteers who see their livelihood endangered if the Moslem-Croat union really works and genuine peace and commerce ensue.

NATO officials later said the outsiders were police sent to Mostar from neighboring Croatia, but Croatia denied the claim.