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Holbrooke Sent to Pressure Muslim Leaders, Calm Serbs

By Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Clinton administration dispatched peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke to Bosnia Thursday to pressure the Muslim-led government into ousting foreign Muslim fighters and reassuring fearful Serbs in Sarajevo.

The double assignment reflected two main White House concerns a week before President Clinton flies to Paris to witness the signing of the peace agreement ending the four-year-old Bosnian civil war. Both matters, if not resolved, could pose dangers to the NATO force of 60,000 troops, including 20,000 Americans, that will enforce the agreement.

The problem of the Mujahadeen -- fundamentalist Muslim warriors from Iran, Afghanistan and other countries -- has upset many members of Congress. They want reassurance that the Bosnian government will fulfill the peace agreement's stricture that all foreign troops must leave Bosnia within 30 days of the Paris signing. Many Islamic fundamentalists regard the United States as their enemy because of Washington's support of Israel.

The problem of the Sarajevo Serbs stems from the decision at the peace negotiations that concluded last month in Dayton, Ohio, to keep the capital under the control of the Bosnian government. This has provoked bitter protests from the 70,000 Serbs who live in suburbs that were controlled by the Bosnian Serbs during the war. And it has made NATO commanders worry about the possibility of having to put down civil strife.

Discussing the Mujahadeen, a State Department official said, Holbrooke will issue a bottom-line demand: The foreign Muslim fighters must leave. "We don't want them to melt into the society," he said.

State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns said Holbrooke, an assistant secretary of state who was the chief American negotiator at the peace talks, will "first and foremost ... be talking to the Bosnian government about the absolutely critical need to say good-bye to the Mujahadeen fighters." Burns said, however, that the department has no realistic estimate of the numbers of such warriors in Bosnia.

Although it was obvious the administration feared the Bosnian government would not take the demand for a Mujahadeen withdrawal seriously, Burns insisted the State Department is confident that the government will abide by the Dayton agreement.

Bosnian government officials "have assured us that this will take place," Burns said. "They've told us many times that these Mujahadeen fighters will be leaving. It's very important to us because most of the reports we have ... place these people in the American sector. We believe that they do represent possibly in the future a threat to the American and other forces there and we want that threat removed."