- defence - European Union - NATO - security
European Union defence ministers backed Wednesday a plan to phase out the EU's peacekeeping operation in Bosnia but set no date for doing so, a French diplomat said.
The ministers "prefer to end the mission, accompanying the move with a civilian or military mission which would take the form of a rapid reaction force based outside of Bosnian territory," the diplomat said.
"A formal decision will be taken on November 10," he said, on the sidelines of informal EU defence talks in Deauville, northern France, hosted by French Defence Minister Herve Morin.
The French minister will chair a formal defence meeting in Brussels on November 10.
Earlier, Morin said: "It is useful that at some point European states send a signal to their citizens that when we launch a mission we are also capable of finishing it."
Launched in 2004 and numbering around 2,500 peacekeepers, the EU Althea peacekeeping force's aims are to ensure security in Bosnia under the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war.
It also conducts de-mining and air traffic control activities, as well as monitoring military movements, particularly around weapons arsenals.
But security has improved markedly in recent years, and the capture of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial for genocide, has further helped foster stability.
British General John McColl, who commands EU and NATO forces in Bosnia, has been "mandated" by the 27 European nations to "present more precise options" by November, the diplomat said.
"A quite broad consensus was found to say that the military operation has been a success," he added.
An official from France, which holds the EU's rotating presidency until the end of the year, said that Althea had essentially finished its tasks, but that a transition mechanism would almost certainly be needed.
"Most of the tasks of this operation have been completed, so we could envisage heading toward the closure of this mission," he said.
The rapid reaction team, he said, "could deploy at any time should things deteriorate."
Indeed the diplomat confirmed that the ministers had rejected a withdrawal of the peacekeepers without any transitional measures, or to continue the mission as it stands.
On the eve of the talks, the defence ministry in Spain, which has some 260 troops in Althea, said in a statement that the Bosnia mission should be transformed into a civilian operation.
"After 15 years of Spain's uninterrupted presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the transfer of responsibilities from the EUFOR operation to the armed forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina is practically completed," it said.
The statement said that Defence Minister Carme Chacon will ask her peers to transform "EUFOR Althea into an essentially civilian operation, as long as the situation on the ground allows it."