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NATO's Bosnia Mission Creeps, Despite Vows

New focus on meeting civilian need threatens neutrality

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PEACE force commanders in Bosnia have been slowly expanding the mission of NATO-led peacekeeping troops, in an effort to smooth Bosnia's transition from war and to help ensure a lasting peace.

Despite fears of "mission creep," NATO sources say, there is a growing recognition of the importance of civilian aspects of the Dayton peace accord. Though military compliance by all of Bosnia's former warring factions is nearly complete - with rivals now separated by 60,000 peacekeepers - success is far from assured.

"The military commanders have now accepted that they will change their emphasis," said Maj. Simon Haselock, a spokesman for the peace force.

"We're now saying that we will assist in civil projects in a much more dynamic way than we have done. This shift in the emphasis of land-forces operations is in response to the obvious need for civilian assistance in repairing and replacing the infrastructure damaged after four years of war," he says.

NATO will clear mines

NATO expects full compliance with the last major military deadline imposed by the Dayton accord, which requires Bosnia's forces to withdraw to barracks and the cantonment of heavy weapons by April 18. After that date, NATO-led forces will clear mines and help with transport, communications, and providing medical aid.

But the announcement made Monday that the operation will expand belies that fact that mission creep already began last month, as peacekeepers dabbled in trying to smooth the rough edges of new population shifts, and to halfheartedly contain violence and destruction in Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo.

Those subtle changes came largely as a result of criticism from Western diplomats and the media that NATO commanders were interpreting their mandate too strictly, in an effort to avoid the same pitfalls that unravelled the 1993 peace mission in Somalia.

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