Britain winning extra troops for Bosnia: Former Warsaw Pact troops likely to be included in international peace force

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH-LED diplomatic effort is expected to bring agreement before the end of the week on a fresh contingent of several thousand United Nations troops - including a force from Britain - being sent to Bosnia.

A meeting to be chaired in New York today by Sir David Hannay, British Ambassador to the UN, looks increasingly likely to lead to a mix of redeployments and new detachments from several countries in response to the UN request for more than 10,500 troops.

Although the total, at least initially, is likely to fall well short of that number, British diplomats have reported back to ministers that they are optimistic that several countries - including some first- time contributors from the former Warsaw Pact - will be involved.

That would then allow Cabinet ministers, possibly tomorrow, to give final approval to 900 ground troops being sent in line with what John Major again told the Commons yesterday would be 'proportionately as part of a wider international effort'.

The New York moves underline a remarkable turn-around in which Mr Major appears to have overcome considerable Cabinet resistance - particularly from the Treasury - to his efforts to involve further troops in what he sees as the increasingly successful peace-keeping efforts of UN forces in Bosnia.

One senior Whitehall source suggested last night that although Britain had appeared to be dragging its feet as recently as a fortnight ago, Mr Major had envisaged that extra troops would be needed as early as 7 February when he first called for a 'more muscular' UN response.

Confirming the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, would be replacing the 1st Battalion, the Coldstream Guards, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, told the Commons yesterday: 'What we may be seeing is a creeping ceasefire.'

One Cabinet minister admitted yesterday that the forcible public impression made, particularly on television, by Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, commander of UN forces in Bosnia, had played a critical part in convincing sceptics among Conservative politicians. Some of the senior backbench MPs originally most opposed to deepening British involvement are those on the traditionalist wing of the party who have been most impressed by General Rose.

British ministers now expect forces from Eastern European countries - possibly including Czech and Slovak troops, for example - to join the UN contingent. Troops from Turkey - hitherto barred from participation because of the danger that they will identify too closely with Bosnian Muslims - could be brought into play in areas where that issue is less sensitive.

The UN in Bosnia is desperate for more troops to patrol Sarajevo and a 180 mile (290 kilometre) front line between Croats and Muslims after the year-long war in central Bosnia ended officially on Monday. After mediating an agreement firming up a ceasefire between the two sides, Brigadier John Reith, commander of UN forces in south-west Bosnia, described the truce as a 'historic moment'. Muslim and Croat officers signed maps setting out the ceasefire lines.

The British are in effect running the UN peace-keeping operation in Bosnia, even though the French still have the largest number of troops deployed and are controlling Sarajevo. Besides General Rose's appointment, the British command in Split is responsible for supplies and reinforcements for all UN forces. The Government would be acutely embarrassed if the fragile peace failed as it was taking hold.

The United States has remained firmly against sending ground troops, but could make a swift and decisive contribution by making transport aircraft available for troop deployment.

The situation in former Yugoslavia remains precarious. Yesterday a Spanish transport aircraft, part of Nato's operation 'Deny Flight', landed in flames in Rijeka, Croatia, after being hit by a missile apparently fired from the Serb-held area of Krajina. The aircraft had been flying from Zagreb to Split. Four passengers were slightly hurt.

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