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Mixed EUphoria

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina--Though the proposed transfer of NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia to the European Union may end up being no more complex than sewing new labels on old uniforms, the Bosnian public is concerned about Europe’s poor track record in the Balkans.

EU defense ministers have given the green light to plans to take over NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the beginning of next year.

The final decision will be made during NATO’s 28-29 June summit in Istanbul.

NATO had originally hoped to end the Stabilization Force (SFOR) mission in Bosnia in 1998, three years after the end of the bitter war for control of the former Yugoslav republic. The alliance prolonged its mission until 2000, citing unsatisfactory postwar security conditions. Since then, it has continued to expand its mandate on a yearly basis, with the latest mandate expiring at the end of this year.

Michael Humphreys, the head of the European Commission delegation in Bosnia, says the potential transfer of authority from SFOR to the EU-led EUFOR would be an easy task and that the quality and quantity of EU troops would be the same as that of the NATO-led troops. Logistically, the transfer would in effect amount to little more than a cosmetic change, replacing the SFOR badges on the uniforms of 7,000 troops with EUFOR insignia.

Seventy percent of SFOR’s troops are from EU member states and would be reassigned to EUFOR immediately, if the mission is approved in Istanbul.

EUFOR would also take command of NATO’s infrastructure assets in the country. Recent reports have hinted that as many as 100 high-level EU military officials would be assigned to run EUFOR's operations. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said recently that Sarajevo could effectively become a full-fledged EU headquarters, complete with a NATO liaison office, while the remaining NATO structures in Bosnia would acquire an EU component.

(TOL 25.vi.04)

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