German troops back to Bosnia as fear of instability grows

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany has deployed troops with the European Union's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia for the first time in a decade as concerns mount instability from the Ukraine war could spread to the Western Balkans.

On Tuesday, the first German troops to return to the country were greeted in a ceremony at the Sarajevo headquarters of the EUFOR force that marked the start of their mission, a German military spokesman said.

Germany will deploy some 30 troops in total to Bosnia by mid-September, returning to the force that it had left at the end of 2012.

Bosnia is hundreds of miles from the fighting in Ukraine but faces an increasingly assertive Bosnian Serb separatist movement that analysts say has at least tacit support from Moscow.

NATO and senior EU officials have warned that instability from the war in Ukraine could spread to the Western Balkans.

Only days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the EU decided to almost double the size of its EUFOR peacekeeping force to 1,100 from 600 troops by sending in reserves to stave off potential instability.

During a visit to the northern town of Novi Grad on Tuesday, Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik said German troops are not welcome, referring to Germany's role in the World War Two. Dodik has previously said he regretted agreeing as a member of the state presidency to extend the mandate of EUFOR.

EUFOR's mandate runs out in November, and it is up to the U.N. Security Council to decide whether to extend it for another year. Concerns are growing in the West that Moscow might use its veto to prevent an agreement.

The Russian embassy in Bosnia in a statement on its website decried "unacceptable references" to the impact of events in Ukraine on the situation in Bosnia and said EUFOR itself had described the situation as peaceful and stable in its last report to the U.N. Security Council.

"The narrative about the need to expand the EUFOR military personnel, including the German troops, is unfounded," it said.

The statement added that some Western states, primarily the United States and Britain, were preparing the ground for a "crawling NATO-isation" of Bosnia.

EUFOR replaced NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia in 2004.

The European troops are meant to stabilise the country after Bosnia's Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks waged a war for territory in the 1990s in which 100,000 people died.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Barbara Lewis)

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