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NATO Is Preparing For Role in Bosnia

But Russian participation seen as crucial to legitimacy

AMID a debate over who should control the forces that would implement a peacekeeping plan in Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO officials are arguing that the task should fall to the alliance.

Because of the need for efficiency in a highly complex situation, NATO should command any eventual peacekeeping force in ex-Yugoslavia, even though non-NATO countries such as Russia would likely participate, NATO Secretary-General Manfred Worner told reporters Friday.

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"You can imagine a command and control situation in which NATO takes the operational responsibility and plugs in, for example, Russian forces or other forces who would participate," Mr. Worner said.

NATO contingency plans call for the transplanting of the alliance's Rapid Reaction Force headquartered in Bielefeld, Germany, to take over in Sarajevo, according to background briefings in Brussels Friday. That would probably mean British command of the peacekeeping forces, since the British presently command the Rapid Reaction Force, NATO sources said.

The NATO commander in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital, would also work with a Sarajevo-based political representative of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sources said.

Worner stressed that, while NATO would want operational command, political responsibility for peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia would lie with the UN Security Council, which would have to hand NATO a mandate to act in order for the alliance to become involved.

The idea of NATO operational command is generally accepted by the UN Security Council because of the realization that the UN has neither the organization nor the resources to handle peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But some analysts have said the UN should revive a military committee to run the operation.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is too complex for traditional UN peacekeeping methods, says a NATO military source. "You cannot ad-hoc a headquarters ... where the commander is picked from here and his chief of staff is picked from there and the first time they get together is on the ground," he warns.

NATO sources confirmed that a total peacekeeping force of about 50,000 troops would be needed to implement a peace plan.

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They said a NATO-led peacekeeping operation would work under the assumption of a peace-plan framework holding together but with "major" localized violations. Some troops would be deployed to "unsettled" areas, requiring enforcement and combat capabilities that would have to be sanctioned in the UN mandate. The NATO-commanded forces would need air power, including attack helicopters, a NATO source said.

He added that eight brigades would be required to implement the peace plan, with each brigade assigned to a specific region. The brigades could come from France, Britain, the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, and a country such as Pakistan that would be seen as a representative of the international community outside the established Western or superpower groupings. A country could send more than one brigade, he said.

The Russians have indicated that they want to participate, and NATO sees their involvement as crucial. "It is an absolute political necessity to have the Russians in," agrees Bo Huldt, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Mr. Huldt explains that a Russian role would add credibility to peacekeeping in former Yugoslavia, because of the close Russia-Serbia relationship; it helps bind Russia to the West; it could bolster Russian leader Boris Yeltsin at home in a very shaky time; and it would "professionalize" the Russian military as peacekeepers and through unprecedented cooperation with NATO.

The Russians would have to be "equal partners" with NATO and take part in planning, the NATO source said, although the alliance would have the final word on operations.

His hint that "you might see a Russian command in Zagreb at a four-star level" indicated that NATO may prefer to have the Russians in Croatia rather than in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where peacekeepers would have to work together in small teams and negotiate with local warlords - not strong skills of the former Warsaw Pact armies.

A NATO military source said that a great danger would lie in the time span covering the signing of a peace plan, the handing down of a UN mandate to NATO, and the subsequent deployment of peacekeeping forces. He says, "I think it will be extremely difficult to act within the timeline" envisioned in the UN peace plan negotiated by UN envoy Cyrus Vance and his European Community counterpart Lord David Owen.

Because the exact mandate for NATO is not known, the alliance has not been able to do detailed planning, the military source said. Therefore, it will take time - one NATO estimate is 30 days - to deploy the fresh peacekeeping forces. In that time the peace plan could totally collapse. NATO must "move within days, not weeks" after it gets the mandate, Huldt says.

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