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Source: NandoNet/Reuters

NATO's Smith says unearthing Bosnia war graves not troops' job

TROGIR, Croatia (Jan 14, 1996 12:40 p.m.) - NATO's commander in Bosnia, U.S.
Admiral Leighton Smith, said on Sunday that his peacekeeping troops did not
have a mission to pursue war criminals or unearth mass graves.

A United Nations war crimes tribunal is located in The Hague and the issue
has been spotlighted by reports that Bosnian Serbs had hidden up to 8,000
bodies in mineshafts at Ljubija in northwestern Bosnia.

The United States also says there are mass graves near Srebrenica, a Moslem
enclave in eastern Bosnia that fell to the Serbs last June.

"Our forces are not (here) to pursue indicted war criminals," said Admiral
Smith, who commands the NATO-led peace Implementation Force (IFOR) in

"However, if in the course of our normal duty, we come across them, or they
come across us, then our obligation would be to detain them and turn them
over to the international tribunal," he told reporters.

"But I say again we do not have a mission which would require us to go seek
them out," said Smith during a visit to an IFOR field hospital at the
Croatian town of Trogir.

"Investigating mass graves is not part of my job. Establishing an
environment in which others can do their job is part of my job," said Smith.
"I would do that if it did not prevent me from doing others of the mission."

IFOR has repeatedly stressed that it does not want to be distracted from its
main task of separating Bosnia's warring parties rather than acting as a

NATO said earlier on Sunday it had not yet received any requests from the
U.N. war crimes tribunal or other organisations to help escort investigators
checking allegations of mass graves in Bosnia.

NATO spokesman Colonel Mark Rayner told reporters IFOR would provide
security for investigators if asked and if the peace force had the resources
and time to do so.

"We're not aware of any occasion on which the appropriate authorities have
tried to gain access...We've received no formal requests into the
headquarters for assistance," he said.

"If IFOR judges that assistance is required and other operational
commitments allow, IFOR will provide the security under which investigation
can be undertaken."

NATO had not set up any special patrols to watch the mine at Ljubija but
alliance troops were in the area as part of their general activities.

Rayner declined to say whether NATO would force the Serbs who guard the mine
to open the way for investigators.

"Let's deal with it one step at a time. Let's wait and see when the
appropriate authorities want to go and look at it and let's see if anyone
tries to stop them," he said.

NATO officials say that helping the search for mass graves is not a priority
and that they are busy for now in making sure that the military forces of
the warring parties are withdrawn behind zones of separation by a deadline
of this Friday.