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Possible Withdrawal of Turkish Troops Disturbs Bosnians

   
InternationalThe International Stability Force's (SFOR) term of duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina expires at the end of this year, leaving many wondering if Turkey will continue its presence in the region.

During the June 28-29 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Istanbul it was decided that a new force under the command of the European Union (EU) would be formed to replace SFOR. According to the decision, as they are not EU members, America and Turkey would withdraw their troops. However, the US declared that it would maintain its military existence in Bosnia, and no country objected to this. So, the only country that will leave Bosnia is Turkey, which has a contingent of 350 troops assigned to the city of Zenica.

The possibility that Turkish soldiers might leave the city disturbs the residents of Zenica. 70 percent of the city's 146,000 residents are Bosnian Muslims. The rest are Serbian and Croatian. The people have a great fondness for the Turkish troops since they have the same cultural and religious background. The Turkish troops also work on the type of projects that win people over, such as park and road construction.

Diplomatic sources indicate that SFOR will be handed over to a force to be constituted of EU's facilities. The sources point out that this force will not be exclusively an EU force; rather, it would be overseen by the EU.

Turkish troops will see out their term of duty, but no decision has been made about what will happen after 2004. Ankara continues to hold meetings concerning the issue, and it seems likely that the troops will stay in Zenica for the new term as well.

The number of soldiers in Bosnia's army is not enough to provide for the total security of the country. Due to financial reasons, 5,000 soldiers were dismissed, bringing the Bosnian army's total active personnel down to 8,000.