Britain set to double peace force in Bosnia

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Britain is ready almost to double its ground troops in Bosnia as part of an international "implementation force" if the US peace plan produces a Balkan settlement.

Government sources said Britain envisaged deployment of up to 15,000 troops - a full division - to police the proposed division of Bosnia into Serb and Muslim-Croat statelets. But the troops would only be sent if the peace talks produced a clear agreement to end the war. Washington said yesterday it was ready to contribute up to 25,000 soldiers.

At present there are 8,500 British soldiers in the Balkans participating in the UN peace-keeping force, Unprofor, and the Anglo-French Rapid Reaction Force. Yesterday the Government said that the British contingent would be reduced to 8,000 as part of a normal troop rotation. But a senior government official said another 7,000 soldiers, mostly from units in Germany, could be made available to the new implementation force.

The rest of the formation, likely to number 60,000 in all, will be from other Nato countries and possibly Russia and Islamic countries.

Yesterday, General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was imperative that any new force did not "get pushed around" in the way UN troops had been. He said the US "would be prepared to provide up to 25,000 [troops] but no more than half of the total force that would be required".

It remains far from certain whether the US plan to end the war will succeed. Hopes rose somewhat yesterday when it became clear the Croat and Bosnian government offensive, which has gained large amounts of territory in the last week, had halted short of Banja Luka, the largest Serb-held town in Bosnia.

The next generation of Bos-nian peace-keepers would differ in two important respects from their hapless UN precursors: there would be a peace to keep, and they would have far more firepower. The handover would take place during a six-month interregnum during which British, French and Dutch UN troops would be put under Nato command.

Mladic resurfaces, page 11