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AFTER 9 YEARS, U.S. ENDS PEACEKEEPING MISSION

U.S. troops marked the end of their nine-year peacekeeping role in Bosnia on Wednesday as NATO prepared to hand over the task to the European Union in December.

A small number of U.S. troops will stay in Bosnia to hunt war crimes suspects and help the country reform its own military.

"This ceremony officially marks mission complete and mission accomplished," Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Army Europe, said in a ceremony at Eagle Base in Tuzla.

U.S. troops have "honorably served as part of a NATO coalition of over 40 nations dedicated to ensuring that the people of this country can move ahead from a war-torn country to a peaceful and promising future," Bell said.

More than 60,000 NATO-led troops were deployed to Bosnia in late 1995 to enforce the Dayton peace agreement, which ended the 3 1/2 -year war among the country's Serbs, Muslims and Croats in which 260,000 people were killed and 1.8 million became refugees.

LEADER REPORTEDLY WANTS NEW TALKS WITH ISRAEL

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (AP) - Syrian President Bashar Assad is ready to resume peace talks with Israel "without conditions," a top U.N. envoy said Wednesday. But Syrian and Israeli officials suggested there was no imminent breakthrough between the entrenched foes.

A senior Syrian official said Damascus has not changed its position that negotiations must resume from where they broke off with Israel four years ago, while Israeli officials expressed doubt over Syrian overtures as long as the Arab state continues supporting Palestinian militant groups.

The last round of Israeli-Syrian peace talks collapsed in 2000.

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