More French troops to Kosovo, U.S. Marines may follow
WASHINGTON (AP) – France is sending 600 to 700 more troops to help quell the rising violence in a divided city in northern Kosovo, and the United States may send in a Marine unit, U.S. and French officials said Wednesday.
France has decided to dispatch an Army battalion to the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, in a part of Kosovo controlled by French peacekeepers, French Defense Minister Alain Richard said at a news conference with William Cohen, the U.S. defense secretary.
”It is simply normal military business to decide … to make the real provisions so that we take control of the situation there,” Richard said. France already has about 4,500 troops in Kosovo.
Cohen said no decision has been made on whether more American troops would go. But a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Marine Expeditionary Unit was on standby for possible movement into the French sector of Kosovo.
”We frankly don’t anticipate that this is going to be a long-term problem but rather a flashpoint that has erupted in the last few days or weeks, and that’s the reason we think that a greater show of force and a greater capability is going to be essential,” Cohen said.
The Marine unit normally has about 2,200 Marines aboard amphibious ships. It was not immediately clear how many Marines might be called upon if the United States decided to commit more troops to Kosovo.
The rising tensions in Mitrovica over the past three weeks prompted the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s governing body, to call a special meeting for Friday in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss Kosovo, the southern province of Serbia from which Yugoslav forces were pushed by a NATO bombing campaign last spring.
A U.S. official said Army Gen. Wesley Clark and the German general in charge of the NATO peackeeping operation in Kosovo had requested that France send another battalion of peacekeepers, numbering 600 to 700. The generals also asked that two other battalions be put on a higher state of readiness to deploy, in case it is decided they are needed. The two other battalions, numbering about 1,200 troops, could include American troops.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, however, officials said Clark was seeking a reallocation of NATO peacekeepers already in Kosovo, rather than an increase in their overall number.
Several NATO countries had designated units as a strategic reserve in case a problem such as the one in Mitrovica arose. They reinforcements include units from Italy and Poland, plus the U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Cohen said reinforcing NATO’s peacekeeping operations will complicate efforts by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to heighten ethnic tensions in Kosovo in defiance of the June agreement to end NATO’s bombing.
”Milosevic will take advantage of every opportunity he can” to undermine NATO’s authority and to foment ethnic unrest, Cohen said.
The defense secretary said NATO needs to add to its existing force in order to show Milosevic that he cannot get away with such actions.
”With this robust reinforcement, we think we will send the right signal” to both Milosevic and the ethnic Albanians, Cohen said.
On Wednesday, a NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said NATO intelligence was keeping track of the disposition of the various forces and cross-border movements, and ensuring that new weapons did not replace the guns being seized by the peacekeepers.
Intelligence officials believe that Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Milosevic’s right-hand man for Kosovo affairs who is under indictment by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for alleged atrocities, is personally running the stepped-up Yugoslav campaign.
There are 30,000 NATO troops and 7,000 soldiers from non-NATO countries now attempting to keep the peace in Kosovo. Others are stationed in neighboring Macedonia.
Concerned the unrest could expand to areas outside Kosovo, Macedonia has put part of its armed forces stationed near the joint Kosovo-Serbia border on a higher alert because of violence and tension in Kosovo, army spokesman Gjorgji Trendafilov said Wednesday.
Clark and NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson have made it clear they believe the Yugoslav leader is behind the current tensions in Kosovo. Both pledge to get tough on any party, Serb or ethnic Albanian, that attempts to stir unrest.
The large Serbian population of Mitrovica, located near the border with Serbia, makes it a flashpoint for violence and a likely place to infiltrate agents from the north, NATO officials say. American, British and Canadian troops have been dispatched to the city to help the French, who have been under increasing pressure.