A U.S. military policeman who drove over a land mine Saturday became the first American injured in the fledgling Bosnia peace mission, which was again delayed when floodwaters prevented the bulk of the U.S. soldiers taking part from leaving Croatia.
And in a decision likely to raise tensions between former enemies, NATO announced there would be no delay in unifying Sarajevo under the Muslim-led government. The Bosnian Serbs had requested the postponement, saying they fear reprisals.
Spc. Martin John Begosh of Rockville, Md., was in stable condition at the U.S. military hospital at Zupanja, Croatia, after driving over a land mine in a Humvee, said Maj. Simon Haselock, a spokesman for NATO.
Begosh, a member of the 709th Military Police Battalion, was in the first of the four vehicles when it hit a mine on a snow-covered side road halfway between Zapanja and Tuzla.
Tuzla is the headquarters for the 20,000 American troops who will be patrolling northeastern Bosnia as part of the NATO-led operation. Zupanja is the Croatian border town where U.S. Army engineers are building a pontoon bridge over the Sava River into Bosnia for the U.S. deployment.
Engineers were unable to complete the bridge Saturday because flooding caused by recent thaws made the venture too risky.
“We’ll do it tomorrow morning,” said Brig. Gen. James O’Neal.
A column of M1-Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles was lined up on the Croatian side ready to cross.
The American troops are part of a 60,000-strong NATO force that will patrol a U.S.-brokered peace accord in Bosnia, where Serbs waged a war of secession for 3-1/2 years.
Some American troops have already arrived in the Tuzla area in northeastern Bosnia, but the Americans are depending on the bridge to transport most of the troops and equipment.
O’Neal said rising water, which spilled over the Sava’s banks, made it unsafe to anchor a key section of the bridge to land. He said the land area would be reinforced with gravel before the bridge would be completed and the crossing attempted.
The Americans had hoped to begin crossing the river Saturday. The delay further frustrated to U.S. attempts to deploy on schedule. Snow and fog, which hampered flights, also caused delays.
Tension over Sarajevo continued to complicate the peace accord, reached in Dayton, Ohio and signed Dec. 14 in Paris.
Serbs who have held some Sarajevo districts throughout the war say they will never submit to the Bosnian government. The peace plan foresees the government resuming control of those Serb-held areas by March 19.
U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of the NATO-led force in Bosnia, apparently overstepped his bounds in suggesting earlier this week that he could shift that deadline to delay the transfer.
On Saturday, Smith said there would be no delay. Capt. Mark van Dyke, read a statement from Smith saying the transfer of authority would begin Feb. 4, as foreseen under terms of the peace agreement.
Smith said “he is not authorized to change the timing of the transfer of land.”
In his statement, Smith urged Bosnian Serbs to stay put, saying the NATO force would provide for their security.
Sarajevo Serbs say they fear revenge attacks from Muslims and others who endured years of Serb bombardment in government-held parts of the city.
Despite the delays, NATO generals have indicated that they’re pleased with progress made over the past week in bringing down checkpoints and getting former foes to withdraw from sensitive frontlines, particularly in Sarajevo.
Brig. Gen. Ole Lysgaard Jorgensen of Denmark told reporters in Zagreb, Croatia, that hostile armies were withdrawing on all fronts.
He said 35,000 troops of the peace force had deployed by Saturday in Bosnia and support points outside the republic.