Auteur: Andrew Beatty
The EU could launch a peacekeeping operation in Bosnia before the end of the year, it emerged yesterday.
The news came as NATO and EU leaders held what were described as "exploratory contacts" in Brussels on the EU taking over from NATO's mission in the country.
The task would be the EU's third peacekeeping mission after operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
There has been some debate about exactly when the EU will be ready to safeguard the fragile peace, which has followed years of inter-ethnic warfare in the early 1990s.
"It is a bit difficult to give an exact date. Of course a lot of military planning is necessary. You can't do this overnight," said the former Dutch Foreign Minister and new NATO chief, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
However, while saying that the EU was making all the necessary preparations, the EU's head of foreign policy, and former NATO chief, Javier Solana had a different take on Europe's preparedness.
"In any case we're ready", he told journalists after the meeting.
The US has continuously voiced its concern about the EU's ability to successfully take over from NATO's SFOR force.
The EU currently has a police mission in the country and would be expected to provide around 6,000 personnel for the peacekeeping force.
NATO's current forces in the country stand at double that figure but will be reduced to 7,000 by June 2004.
Final decisions on the date for the EU takeover are likely to come at a key NATO meeting in Istanbul in June.