From ............ Associated Press

November 28, 1996

By AIDA CERKEZ ........ AP Writer

HADZICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- First came the sound of a long whistle. Then a train appeared, pulling one M-60 tank and 10 armored vehicles -- the first U.S. weapons delivered to the Muslim-Croat federal army.

The weapons arrived Thursday at the railway station in Hadzici, near Sarajevo, prompting sighs of relief among Bosnian officials.

The delivery is just part of the $100 million worth of U.S. military hardware that arrived weeks ago in the Croatian port of Ploce.

The arriving equipment is the first step of a $400 million program designed to raise the army of the Muslim-Croat federation to the level of the Bosnian Serb forces. "Train and Equip" aims to create military balance in the region as a guarantee for stability.

The United States at first refused to unload a cargo vessel with the hardware -- including M-60 tanks, M-111 armored vehicles, M-16 rifles, M-60 machine guns, anti-tank weapons, radio communications, ammunition and other equipment -- until the government in Sarajevo fired its deputy defense minister, who has close ties with Iran.

The government eventually did so, and the ship was unloaded six days ago. Part of the equipment went straight to the Bosnian Croat-controlled federal army barracks in Livno, and the train carrying 390 tons of equipment reached Hadzici after traveling for hours.

The United Nations imposed an overall arms embargo on former Yugoslavia in 1991, hurting mostly the Bosnian Muslims.

The Bosnian Serbs were supplied with weapons by neighboring Serbia and the Bosnian Croats by Croatia. The outgunned Muslims managed to fight the war on two fronts, only occasionally smuggling some weapons in from Islamic countries.

Under U.S. pressure, Muslims and Croats who battled each other for a year in 1993-94 signed a federation agreement which ended their fighting in March 1994.

The Dayton peace agreement, again mediated by the United States, ended 3 1/2 years of war in Bosnia and divided the country roughly in two between the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs.

The embargo was lifted in 1996, and Thursday's delivery was the first practical sign of it. "I'm sad," said Namik Nanic, a Defense Ministry official who handles logistics for the federal army, as he watched the train arriving. "This could have been done in 1993 and saved hundreds of thousands of lives."