The United States will “continue to stay engaged in Bosnia” beyond the June 30, 1998, deadline for withdrawing U.S. military forces, a senior U.S. official told Congress on Thursday.
“The United States has made a long-term commitment to peace in Bosnia and the reintegration of Bosnia into Europe,” said Robert Gelbard, the State Department official responsible for implementing the Dayton Peace Accords.
“This long-term commitment means we and our allies will continue to stay engaged in Bosnia to provide assistance and international leadership well beyond the end of the SFOR (Stabilization Forces) mandate in June of next year.”
Gelbard also said the United States will do more to pursue war criminals. “We are active in every aspect of thinking on this issue,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
He said it’s time for Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to be “delivered” to the Hague - the site of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Without more indicted war criminals being captured, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said the current situation may only amount to an “expensive cease-fire.” The cost of the U.S. operation in Bosnia, initially projected at $3.2 billion, has risen to $7.8 billion.
Gelbard said U.S. officials have not “formally” discussed what type of U.S. presence will remain after the scheduled troop pullout. But he told the senators: “Our commitment doesn’t end then. … A military presence isn’t the only factor.”
President Clinton recently left open the possibility that a U.S. military role in Bosnia may be needed after the deadline but he declined to elaborate. About 8,000 American troops are now stationed there, down from 20,000 troops initially deployed in 1995.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the panel’s senior Democrat, said the June deadline means the United States is rapidly approaching “the moment of truth” in Bosnia. And so far, he said, “we have failed woefully to enforce crucial mandates of the Dayton accords.”
Biden and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said most refugees and displaced persons are still unable to return safely to their homes. They also noted that 66 of the 74 indicted war criminals remain at large.
The General Accounting Office, the investigating arm of Congress, released a report at the hearing that concluded only partial progress has been made toward reaching the goals of the 1995 Dayton agreement, in which the warring factions of the former Yugoslavia agreed to cease fighting.
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