'US troops in Balkans until Milosevic goes'

WASHINGTON, Feb 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO's military chief said on Thursday that U.S. and NATO troops were likely to remain in Bosnia and Kosovo as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic retains power.

U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that troops in the region could be reduced but probably never removed until Milosevic's regime is replaced.

U.S. lawmakers have grown increasingly exasperated by the lengthy deployment in Kosovo and Bosnia, but Clark refused to put a timeframe on any eventual troop withdrawals.

"The key to a peaceful resolution and a successful exit from the region for U.S. forces and the forces of NATO is democratization in Yugoslavia and Milosevic's appearance at the international criminal tribunal in The Hague," Clark told the House Armed Services committee.

"Until he is taken to trial, until democracy is taken into Serbia, we're not going to see a resolution of the problem," said Clark, who is retiring in April and will be replaced by Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston.

Milosevic, who agreed to withdraw his troops from Kosovo last year after NATO's 72-day air war against Serb forces who had pillaged the province and driven out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians, has been indicted for war crimes in Kosovo by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.

To the growing frustration of lawmakers, two deadlines have passed for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Bosnia since they were first deployed in 1995, and no new target date has been set for the remaining 4,600 troops. About 5,900 of the 44,000-strong peace forces in Kosovo are American.

The continued mission in Bosnia and the Kosovo operations have had "a significant negative impact on the Army," said Representative Floyd Spence of South Carolina, Republican chairman of the committee.

Clark told the panel more international civilian police were needed in crime-plagued Kosovo to ease the burden on military forces, but only about 2,000 of a needed 6,000 civilian police were on the ground in Kosovo.

He refused to slam European allies for not doing enough in the Balkans, however, saying it was "a political imperative on both sides of the Atlantic that Europe do more."

Clark said it was crucial that economic measures against Yugoslavia be targeted so they only impacted Milosevic and his regime and did not affect everyday Serbs.

"NATO has never been anti-Serb. We've been anti-Milosevic," he said.

Original article