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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK

World: Europe

Q & A: Lessons from Bosnia

[ image:  ]
High-level talks between Russia and the US are underway to resolve the dispute over the role of Russian troops in Kosovo.

The row between Russia and Nato is in sharp contrast to the smooth co-operation between the two sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina. BBC South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos looks at the similarities and differences between the peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Q: With K-For in Kosovo for barely two days, there have already been several serious incidents, including fatalities. Are conditions more dangerous than they were in Bosnia?

A: In some ways, yes. When the Nato-led multi-national force, known at the time as I-For, began to be deployed in Bosnia after the Dayton peace accords in December 1995, there had already been a ceasefire in place for over two months.

Kosovo: Special Report
By contrast, in Kosovo there was fighting between the Serbian security forces and the Kosovar Albanian fighters of the KLA just hours before Nato's deployment began on Saturday.

In Bosnia there were also relatively clear frontlines separating the warring sides. In Kosovo the nature of the Kosovar Albanians' guerrilla war has created a much less clear-cut situation on the ground. Consequently, there's a greater potential for continuing confrontation between the warring sides - at least until the Serbian forces are withdrawn.

Q: That withdrawal is very different from the situation in Bosnia, though.

A: Yes, in Bosnia the Dayton accords left in place two separate local armies - that of the Bosnian Serb republic and that of the Muslim-Croat federation.

[ image: K-For faces greater problems than its Bosnian counterpart]
K-For faces greater problems than its Bosnian counterpart
I-For's main task was to ensure compliance with the ceasefire; with the deal on the separation of forces; and with the various partial disarmament measures.

In the case of Kosovo, all Yugoslav army and Serbian police and paramilitary formations are to evacuated by 20th June - though a few hundred personnel will be allowed back in at a later stage for border control duties and for guarding Serb cultural monuments.

All in all, after the initial few days, there's far less scope for potential military resistance to the peacekeepers in Kosovo than there was in Bosnia - though in practice there was barely any opposition in Bosnia itself.

Q: But what about the KLA?

A: The KLA is to be "demilitarised" - a vague term, that can be interpreted in different ways. The general understanding of the term, though, is that the guerrilla army is to be transformed into a political movement.

Besides, some of the KLA's fighters are likely to be incorporated into the multi-ethnic community police whose establishment was envisaged at the failed Rambouillet talks - which may still be used as the basis for Kosovo's political development.

Q: If all the Serbian forces are to be pulled out of Kosovo, why is there a need to have a 50,000-strong peacekeeping mission in the province - nearly as big as the initial 60,000 soldiers deployed in Bosnia - when both Kosovo's territory and its population are less than half of Bosnia's?

A: I-For in Bosnia had a very limited mandate which was concerned almost entirely with the military implementation of the Dayton accords.

Initially, I-For's commanders shied away from a whole range of other duties - such as helping refugees return to their homes or apprehending suspected war criminals. For example, it took 18 months before the peacekeepers made their first arrest of an indicted war criminal. In Kosovo, though, the peacekeepers are taking a much broader approach.

Q: Is K-For then going to adopt a more pro-active role?

A: It already has. K-For has already killed several armed Serbs who were reportedly shooting or threatening to shoot at the peacekeepers.

[ image: Russia is insisting on its own zone]
Russia is insisting on its own zone
By contrast, in Bosnia a number of snipers, apprehended by I-For, were handed over to the Bosnian Serb police - who then promptly released them.

And while in Bosnia I-For refused for many months to guard the sites of reported mass graves, K-For has now acted within hours of locating mass graves in the Kacanik area by ensuring there can be no tampering with the evidence.

Q: Any other tasks?

A: Yes, K-For will provide security - and perhaps in many cases logistical support - to help the return of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees. Likewise, it's expected to lend a hand with many civil engineeering projects to help speed up reconstruction work.

Q: What about the continuing dispute over the role of Russian peacekeepers?

A: Nato would like the Russian presence in Kosovo to be similar to the arrangements that have worked so well in Bosnia.

There, a small, 2,000-strong Russian contingent has been attached to the US army in the American-controlled sector of the country. That Russian unit reports not directly to Nato but to an American general and to a Russian liaison officer based at Nato headquarters.

For the moment Moscow is insisting on a separate zone for Russia's peacekeepers in Kosovo. But Russia's stand remains unclear on a number of issues and it's not even certain whether it will deploy in full the 10,000-strong contingent it promised to send to Kosovo.

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