April 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Bosnia Soldiers Return To Bases Both Sides Slowly Putting Their Armies On Peace Footing Under Nato Supervision

Associated Press

Soldiers are heading back to barracks and heavy weapons are going into storage - moves toward meeting the last milestone in putting Bosnia’s armies onto peacetime footing.

NATO officials stress the importance of the socalled “D-plus-120” deadline Thursday, 120 days after NATO took over from the United Nations in Bosnia.

“It means, in essence, that the war is over,” Maj. Simon Haselock, a NATO spokesman.

Under the Bosnian peace agreement, all regular soldiers must return to barracks and all heavy weapons placed in special storage areas by midnight Thursday.

But the NATO-led peacekeeping force says the daunting task of moving 150,000 soldiers from all sides - about 800 tanks, 1,300 artillery pieces, 145 multiple rocket launchers and 3,500 mortars - will “quite likely” continue beyond the deadline.

Haselock quoted NATO’s commander of ground forces, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, as calling the operation “one of the largest, most ambitious and complex movements of military forces in such a confined area in recent history.”

With the deadline approaching, the three military forces have stepped up efforts to comply, Haselock said.

“The parties and the military leaders are so far honoring their pledge to put an entire new face on the fighting units that a few months ago were at war with each other,” he said.

NATO officials would not say how close the three parties are to compliance, or speculate on whether they would meet the deadline. But they said that after a slow start, the sides are making progress.

One of the problems left to NATO is to check out about 800 prospective sites for barracks and weapons storage, a complex process that will likely continue for some time.

Lt. Col. Hermann Beckmann, a senior operations officer, said NATO is approving only sites that do not give one side a military advantage.

Muslim-led government forces and Bosnian Croat forces are supposed to form a joint command as part of their federation agreement. Along with the Bosnian Serbs, they must decide on the peacetime strength of their military.

During the four-year war, the three sides put a total of some 300,000 soldiers into the field, about half of them members of the regular armies who must now return to barracks, Beckmann said.

The others must be demobilized and find civilian jobs, which may create social problems in a country where unemployment is already 75 percent, according to the World Bank.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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