British may stay in Bosnia for winter

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Britain and France are edging away from an early Bosnia pull-out, it emerged here yesterday. Precipitate departure of the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) may end up ''ringfencing a massacre'', a British official admitted on the first day of the EU winter summit.

As EU leaders discussed the Bosnian war over dinner last night, officials said anxiety over the safety of Unprofor troops had been eased by the US decision to provide ground troops to cover any emergency withdrawal under fire. It seems the British and French governments - echoing the opinions of their forces on the ground - are now ready to soldier on, at least through the winter.

Britain and France, who provide the largest part of Unprofor, continued to speak about withdrawal if conditions deteriorated, or if the US forced the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnian government. But a senior British official said a pull-out was now the ''last option''.

Other officials said all countries at the summit agreed that without a UN armed presence there would be a new bloodbath. Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands - all of whom have contingents in Bosnia - warned it would be very dangerous if Britain and France took unilateral decisions to withdraw. ''There can be no question of saying that the withdrawal of the peace-keepers has already been decided,'' Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, said.

But Britain still believes that if the UN peace-keepers are unable to do their job, or if they come under very serious threat, they will be pulled out. This would involve a Nato force, with more British troops if required, to assist withdrawal. ''We would be willing to put in extra forces if it was necessary,'' said the source.

Cash for Europe, page 8

Robert Fisk, page 9