German Admiral Takes Over Command of EUFOR in Bosnia

German Rear Admiral Hans-Jochen Witthauer has assumed command of the European Union Force (EUFOR) in Bosnia. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said some German soldiers could leave Bosnia-Herzegovina by May.

German Rear Admiral Hans-Jochen Witthauer on Tuesday replaced Italian General Major Marco Chiarini at the helm of the EUFOR presence, which is securing stability in Bosnia since the end of a bloody, three-year war that ended in 1995.

The 6,000-strong EUFOR replaced a NATO-led peacekeeping presence in Bosnia two years ago.

The EU’s top diplomat, Javier Solana, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung and top Bosnian officials attended the changing of command ceremony at the Butmir airport, near Sarajevo.

“You have contributed to the safe and secure environment in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Solana told the EUFOR mission, codenamed Operation Althea.

Solana added that he was expecting the situation to continue developing in the direction in which Bosnia would in the future assume more responsibility, while the EU could reduce its presence.

Some German troops could pull out

Jung said earlier Tuesday that perhaps 300 German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) soldiers could leave Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2007.

He said that leaders at the European Union summit next week would agree on a four-stage plan for the withdrawal of troops, with the first stage scheduled for May or June of next year.

He added that the withdrawal would depend on the security situation in Kosovo.

Jung’s Bosnian counterpart, Nikola Radovanovic, however, said EUFOR is still needed in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“The Althea mission is very useful and still needed to this country,” he said. “The time will come to talk about its ending, but our common goal is to make Bosnia a stabile country.”

The first significant reduction of the EUFOR troops currently deployed in Bosnia could be expected in the first half of 2007, Radovanovic added.

Bosnia was torn by a ruthless 1992-1995 war among Serbs, Croats and the majority Muslims that erupted following the disintegration of the federal Yugoslavia.

Serbia borders Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Kosovo, a southern Serbian province seeking independence, has been administered by the United Nations since the end of the war there in 1999.

The area is the subject of a long-running political and territorial dispute between the Serbian government and Kosovo’s Albanian population. A solution on the territory’s final status has been postponed until after parliamentary elections in Serbia on Jan. 21.

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