SARAJEVO, Nov 17, 1999 -- (Reuters) Germany will pull more than 300 soldiers out of Bosnia by April 2000 as part of a process to reduce the NATO-led peacekeeping force, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said on Tuesday.
Scharping told reporters during a visit to the Balkan country that the German contingent of the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) would be cut to under 2,000 from more than 2,300. But the reductions would mostly concern logistics and would not affect the quality of the German SFOR force.
A total of 9,000 German soldiers currently serve with NATO-led peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Macedonia and the Serbian province of Kosovo and Scharping said the aim of the cuts in Bosnia was to lower costs while maintaining efficiency.
SFOR, whose troops from some 40 countries safeguard peace following the 1992-1995 war, will be reduced by one third to 20,000 personnel by next April, its commander said earlier this month.
Lieutenant-General Ronald Adams said a continued absence of armed hostilities, increasing numbers of returning refugees and a greater freedom of movement in Bosnia would allow the force to be scaled down without jeopardizing peace.
Britain last month said that its contribution to SFOR would be scaled down to around 3,300 from 4,200 by the end of 1999.
Scharping, who met the defense ministers of Bosnia's two autonomous entities during his one-day visit, said he hoped the country's separate armed forces would become more multi-ethnic rather than representing separate ethnic groups.
Bosnia's Serb republic and the country's Muslim-Croat federation have separate armed forces under the 1995 Dayton accord that ended the conflict. The federation army is in effect also divided into Muslim and Croat components.
[URL may be different next day if article is archived]