Britain denies Bosnia troop 'withdrawal'

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The Independent Online
AN EMBARRASSED Government hastened yesterday to deny that troops might be withdrawn from Bosnia after hints to that effect by Douglas Hogg, the Foreign Office Minister, during a visit to British troops in Vitez.

Mr Hogg implied that the Coldstream Guards might not be replaced after their tour ended in April. Before leaving Vitez, he said: 'You can't say to one country that, continuously, they should provide the role. There are many other countries that could provide the role and it is a burden that needs to be shared.'

However, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence sources said he was 'caught on the hop - unbriefed'. They insisted the British United Nations force of 2,500 troops supporting aid supplies would remain as long as needed, that a unilateral withdrawal was inconceivable and that British policy remained as set out by Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, on 29 November. Mr Hurd said then: 'It cannot be taken that the humanitarian effort will continue indefinitely if there is no local co-operation and no progress towards a political settlement. We are committed, obviously, for the winter.'

However, the British and French are key players in the UN and signals that they are unwilling to remain could affect policy. A French minister suggested on Monday that France could withdraw its 6,000 troops 'next spring' if there appears to be no chance for a peace settlement by then.

Senior military sources said there was an 'undercurrent' of opinion that British patience was not endless. But there was no chance of deserting the UN force, any more than of staying after other forces had left.

In Geneva, Croatia's President, Franjo Tudjman, said yesterday that Croats and Serbs had agreed to meet Muslim demands for a full third of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The offer raised hopes for an end to the war, but a spokesman for the Bosnian Muslim delegation in Geneva rejected the concessions as insufficient. 'It is not something we can accept,' he said. 'We have got nothing of what we asked for in eastern and western Bosnia.'

Serbs, Croats and Muslims meet European Union foreign ministers in Brussels today.

'Angel' row, page 7

Croat-Serb deal, page 8

Bosnia appeal, page 11

Leading article;

Letters, page 13