On the jittery eve of the first municipal elections in Bosnia since 1990, the American commander of NATO warned that foreign peacekeeping troops are prepared to shoot to kill if violence erupts during the two-day balloting.
The NATO-led peacekeeping force “is not a police force; it’s not trained in riot control,” said Gen. Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander in Europe. “It has authority and capability to use lethal force. Should it be so threatened, it will use that force, and should it use lethal force, I want to underscore that responsibility for the casualties … rests with the perpetrators” of violence.
Clark’s warning, his toughest to date, came a day before Bosnians were to vote this weekend in bitterly contested elections for 142 local councils. Together with the Pentagon’s announcement Thursday that it will use three high-tech electronic warfare aircraft to jam anti-Western television broadcasts by Bosnian Serbs beginning next week, the general’s remarks reflected the West’s waning patience with opponents of the U.S.-brokered peace process in Bosnia.
The 36,000 peacekeeping troops in Bosnia have done their best to sidestep trouble and defuse a succession of crises in the last two weeks, bowing to pressure from Western election officials who are spending $50 million and importing 2,700 poll supervisors to run the voting here Saturday and Sunday.
Nonetheless, American and European troops have been involved in a number of tense and potentially violent standoffs, including one early this week that some U.S. officials described as an attempted coup by one rival Bosnian Serb faction against another, Western-backed one.
Comments by a variety of Western officials this week, and now Clark’s direct threat to use lethal force, suggest the West is preparing for tougher action against Serb hardliners based in Pale, a former ski resort just outside Sarajevo.
Many Western officials regard the group of nationalists in Pale, who are loyal to indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, as barely distinguishable from a criminal gang. They accuse Pale of repeatedly blocking the peace plan for Bosnia worked out by U.S. mediators in Dayton, Ohio, in late 1995.
In a further sign of the West’s aggressive stance, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana today brushed off Russian objections to the West’s get-tough policy with Karadzic’s faction and its tilt toward his bitter rival, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic.