Britain toughens stance on Serbia

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The British Government toughened its stance on Bosnia yesterday with an attack by a Foreign Office minister on the behaviour of Serbian forces.

In comments less diplomatic than those previously used by ministers, the Minister for Overseas Development, Baroness Chalker, said the international community had 'to bring the Serbs under control because otherwise nowhere in the region is safe'.

Lady Chalker's remarks on Radio 4's Today programme, which came on the day a British officer was wounded by Serbian mortar fire, will fuel the Whitehall debate over the extent to which Britain should take part in any escalation of military involvement in Bosnia.

The Ministry of Defence has been cautious, stressing that the British troops already in Bosnia are vulnerable to reprisals if air strikes are mounted against Serbian forces to enforce the UN's no- fly zone. The Foreign Office has been more sympathetic to international calls for increased military action.

Pressure for intervention appeared to increase yesterday after Muslim forces accused the Serbs of defying the no-fly zone by using helicopters to reinforce Jradacac, a northern Bosnian town under attack by Muslim forces.

But in Geneva Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, and the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, both said they were opposed to any foreign intervention to stop the war in former Yugoslavia. 'The peace process must prevail,' Mr Boutros-Ghali said.

Lady Chalker, who met former detainees held in camps in Bosnia when she visted the region, said: 'Some had been starved, some had been beaten, some had, I think, worse things done to them.' She had heard too much about the alleged rape of Muslim women to believe that the story could have been fabricated. 'I'm afraid men in wartime do things like that. It is not just regrettable, it is abominable.'

The danger to British troops was underlined when an Army officer serving in Bosnia was slightly wounded yesterday after his armoured convoy came under surprise attack from Serb mortar positions. Lieutenant Justin Freeland, 25, of the 9/12 Lancers, was hit when three 80mm mortar bombs landed close to his Scimitar armoured reconnaissance vehicle near the town of Tuzla.

(Photograph omitted)

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