Bosnia may get Nato air cover: West considers Nato protection for aid convoys to cities

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The Independent Online
NATO combat aircraft could be sent to Yugoslavia to provide air cover for humanitarian aid, it emerged yesterday as the Government faced increased pressure for action to relieve the suffering of the Bosnian refugees.

Air strikes on Serbian heavy armaments have been ruled out, but limited air cover over parts of the former Yugoslavia, although unlikely at this stage, could be provided to protect convoys taking aid to Bosnian cities.

Britain and other Western governments are studying ways of providing military cover, British officials said yesterday. The plan being explored focuses on two areas: extending the defence capabilities of relief convoys, and creating relief zones where aid can be distributed and people can assemble under temporary shelter. Both would require a further resolution by the United Nations Security Council.

One official added: 'Air strikes to bomb the Serbs into submission would prove extremely difficult,' the community being so 'totally interwined you could not separate refugee from murderer. The degree of callousness of these people is such that if you start to zap their heavy guns, you could not put it past them to start hiding their heavy guns in orphanages, hospitals, refugee centres and schools. You can imagine the callousness of people who are prepared to bomb a children's funeral.'

The official added 'the use of armed force to enforce peace' was still not an option. 'It won't stick and the numbers required would be horrendous.'

However, taking command of the air space would be 'no problem' for superior Nato air power, another government official said. 'We are looking at some relatively small-scale operation to help get humanitarian aid in, so you have armoured vehicles with convoys . . . If necessary some air cover would help them do that,' he added.

The Prime Minister's office said John Major had not ruled out air cover, although he made clear that air power would not by itself be enough to bring about an end to the fighting.

Nato flights would have an immediate calming effect on the fighting, Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said yesterday before meeting Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, to press for urgent government action.

The Government is resisting pressure for more refugees to be brought out of the war zone, although it insisted there was no limit on the numbers who would be admitted if they reached Britain.

John Cunningham, Labour spokesman on foreign affairs, said: 'Britain should use its EC presidency to take urgent action in getting wounded children out of the war zones and into hospitals throughout the Community in order to receive proper medical attention.'

The Government is seeking the support of its European partners for the humanitarian relief to be supplied in situ. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, has been to New York, Dublin, Madrid and was in Athens yesterday preparing for the London conference on Yugoslavia convened by Britain for 26 August.

The agenda will include security, control of heavy weaponry, the future of Bosnia and federal Yugoslavia, and the refugee crisis. Britain will be recommending the establishment of working groups to work on all the issues.

In spite of growing pressure for action, there is no support for direct military intervention with ground forces. Air strikes have been ruled out because of the difficult terrain.

Britain has also proposed extending the monitoring of sanctions against Serbia to the Danube - the main route of sanctions-busting where oil barges have been smuggling fuel. Nato and the Western European Union have ships monitoring sanctions in the Adriatic.