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Clinton plans reduction of U.S. troops in Bosnia

Amid increasing optimism over peace prospects for Bosnia, the Clinton administration is planning to reduce the number of American troops attached to Bosnia's NATO mission from 8,500 to 7,000 this year.

Part of the upbeat mood is based on the accession of a new, moderate prime minister, Milorad Dodik, in the Serb sector of Bosnia. Dodik, who took office three weeks ago and is firmly committed to the Dayton peace process, has been in Washington this week meeting with administration and congressional leaders.An administration official, briefing reporters on Thursday, disclosed the planned U.S. troop reduction after NATO ambassadors decided, as expected, to extend NATO's presence in Bosnia beyond June, when the current mandate expires.

Despite the reduced U.S. presence, the overall NATO commitment is expected to remain at its current level at least until national elections in Bosnia this fall, after which the overall 35,000-troop level is to be pared.

Now that most major military tasks have been completed, the NATO mission, known as SFOR, is expected to focus greater attention on such issues as crowd control and ensuring that refugees who want to return to their homes can do so.

The administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of SFOR's achievements have gained little international notice, such as its destruction of 6,200 heavy weapons that had been owned by various Bosnian factions.

American troops have been in Bosnia more than three years. President Clinton has set departure deadlines twice and extended them twice. There is no current target date for an American pullout.

Some members of Congress are uneasy about the open-ended commitment, but Clinton has warned that Bosnia "could backslide into war" if the United States and NATO withdrew peacekeepers.