Bosnian government sends troops to Iran Training of Muslims could complicate relations with Croats

March 03, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

VIENNA, Austria -- The Bosnian government has sent soldiers to Iran for training as part of an effort to revamp its military, senior Western and Bosnian government officials say.

Two Bosnian officials confirmed the training, and European countries with embassies in Iran say that the number of soldiers involved was probably "a few hundred."

The training, combined with the presence of 150 to 200 Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Bosnia in violation of the Balkan peace accord, is likely to anger and alarm Bosnia's Western backers. It underscores the effort of Iran's militant Islamic government to forge close ties with the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

The presence of Bosnian soldiers in Iran does not violate the peace plan, although it could cause tensions between the Bosnian government and Washington, which hopes to curb Iranian influence in Bosnia.

"The Dayton agreement does not prevent any country from going and seeking training and assistance," said Vigleik Eide, a retired Norwegian general who heads the arms control talks taking place here between the former warring factions.

"We will see this effort to seek assistance in the future. All countries have programs where they send officers abroad for training."

The U.S. government has promised to help train and equip the Bosnian army once the arms talks here, aimed at achieving a balance of forces in the Balkans, end in June. But an intensive program to train officers and troops in Iran will make it difficult for the Pentagon to carry out an aid program, NATO officials said.

Iran was one of the first Muslim countries to come to the aid of the Bosnians when the war began, sending clandestine arms shipments and helping to organize units of Muslim volunteers known as mujahedeen. Arms embargoes by the West during the war on all the former Yugoslav republics made the Iranian assistance vital in the effort to build up the Bosnian government forces.

Iran and militant Islamic groups run some four dozen Islamic charities in Bosnia. NATO officials contend that the charities are used as a cover to bring in military equipment and soldiers. When the Balkan peace agreement was signed, the Bosnian government allowed many of the Iranians and mujahedeen to register as aid workers and civilian teachers, according to these officials.

NATO officials said that the military expertise gained by Bosnian troops in Iran would be marginal. Turkey, they said, is already quietly training some Bosnian soldiers, and the number of Bosnians in Iran at any one time is not enough to form a battalion, making large-unit training impossible. The officials said much of the emphasis will be on ideological indoctrination.

Croatian officials said that unless the Bosnian government begins to scale back its ties with Iran, and with conservative Muslim groups in the Middle East, the fragile federation between the Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats will disintegrate.

Since the cease-fire took effect last fall, the Croatian government has not permitted the Bosnian government to smuggle weapons through its territory, as it did for much of the war. And the deployment of the NATO force has made it difficult, if not impossible, to bring in weapons by air. The halt in the flow of arms has led the Bosnian government to focus on training its soldiers and lobbying allies, especially Islamic countries, for future arms shipments.

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