Britain isolated over Yugoslavia: France, Italy and the US back use of military force as Serbian tanks join fierce fighting in Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
THE LEADERS of the world's seven leading industrialised countries yesterday moved towards backing the use of military force in Yugoslavia, as fierce fighting again erupted in Sarajevo. Britain continued to resist the move, but it is now isolated.

The threat of force was present in a political declaration released by the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Canada in Munich yesterday. It warns all belligerents in the former Yugoslavia not to endanger relief workers and to allow the opening of land corridors to Sarajevo. If they do not, 'we believe the (United Nations) Security Council will have to consider other measures, not excluding military means, to achieve its humanitarian objectives'.

But in private, the leaders of the US, France and Italy were prepared to go further. France said European foreign ministers would meet on Friday to discuss sending reinforcements to Bosnia, and France and Italy will propose sending ground forces.

The US said it would also support the use of force to help relief efforts, and was considering action to support opening up a corridor from Split or Zagreb in Croatia to embattled areas in the Bosnian republic. The US Secretary of State, James Baker, said the US had 'served as a catalyst for action' in the statement.

General Colin Powell, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on a visit to Hungary yesterday that the US was ready to send warships back into the Adriatic from the Mediterranean.

Although Britain said it would not veto any mandate from the Security Council, it continued to resist the idea of others using force. 'Military success in a situation like this is a will-o'-the-wisp, and so long as those concerned continue to chase that will-o'-the-wisp they will be leading those whom they purport to represent into fresh disasters,' the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said yesterday.

G7 governments have privately been expressing increasing impatience with Britain. Britain is reluctant to get involved in what promises to be a protracted engagement because of its commitments in Northern Ireland and because the Government considers public opinion would not countenance the loss of British lives.

Mr Hurd said yesterday he would travel to Yugoslavia next week to discuss the situation with officials there. He added that Lord Carrington, who chairs the EC-sponsored peace conference, would have talks in New York tomorrow with UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

But it looked certain yesterday that Lord Carrington's role as the main negotiator in the Yugoslav crisis had lost the mandate of Britain's European allies. The French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, told reporters: 'Lord Carrington has reached his limit. We are now looking for an enlarged forum.'

The French said this would include all permanent five members of the Security Council, the neighbouring countries of the former Yugoslavia, and other interested parties such as Russia.

Most officials said that if the WEU agreed to implement contingency plans for an enforcement of the naval blockade or to deploy ground troops to protect the roads to Sarajevo airport it would still need to obtain a mandate from the UN security council.

While the G7 met, fierce fighting erupted in the Bosnian capital. Serbian tanks swung into action for the first time in several weeks. Earlier, 17 aircraft landed with emergency international aid, despite sniper and machine-gun fire. But the risky airlifts remain a fragile lifeline for Sarajevo, which is why the road corridor option is being investigated.

Mr Baker also said firm action against Serbian aggression would deter other groups from stirring up conflicts in the wake of the Cold War. The former Soviet bloc has dominated the meeting in Munich, and last night, Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President, flew in to discuss aid for Russia. He is likely to get further economic assistance, but will have to confront political demands.

The G7 declaration called for normalisation of Russia's relations with Japan by settling their dispute over the Kurile islands, and asked Moscow to set a timetable for withdrawing its troops from the Baltic states.

West faces another war, page 10

Leading article, page 18