ATHENS, Greece -- Seeking to demonstrate that the Clinton (( administration will continue to lead the NATO alliance, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that the United States would send 300 troops to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to guard against a widening of the Balkan war.
The conflict in Bosnia "must not be allowed to spill over," Mr. Christopher told NATO foreign ministers, who opened two days of talks yesterday morning at this sun-soaked resort overlooking the Aegean Sea. "It is essential that everyone in the region understand that aggression against . . . Macedonia would have grave consequences," Mr. Christopher warned.
A senior Pentagon official said the troops could be dispatched to Macedonia within two weeks. The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said no decision had yet been made on where the troops would come from or how they would be armed. He said they probably would be infantry troops.
They will join about 700 United Nations peacekeepers already monitoring the situation in Macedonia.
The U.S. unit will be under the command of the U.N. Protection Force operating in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia. There are about 330 U.S. troops in support roles in various parts of the
In making its first commitment -- albeit, a symbolic one -- of U.S. combat troops to the Balkan conflict, the administration sought to underscore its determination to contain the Bosnian war. But the move also highlighted the administration's insistence that Europe take the lead in trying to end the fighting in Bosnia. France, Britain, Canada and Spain have thousands of peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, serving under the U.N. command. The United States refuses to join those forces, despite pleas from Europe and the United Nations.
The token U.S. force in Macedonia will be at least 50 miles from any fighting in Bosnia. There is no fighting in Macedonia. There are fears, however, that, if fighting erupts in the nearby Serb province of Kosovo between Serbs and the ethnic Albanians who are a majority in Kosovo, refugees may flee to Albania and Macedonia, sparking fighting between Albania and Serbia that could draw in Macedonia.