Bush adopts tougher line over Bosnia

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JOHN MAJOR is expected to come under pressure from President Bush to intensify European Community action on Bosnia when the two leaders meet at Camp David this weekend.

Emphasising his own increased concern for the region in the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister warned: 'Macedonia could be a tinder-box for a wider Balkan conflict.'

In a statement on the Edinburgh summit, Mr Major said the EC had unreservedly backed the UN plan to put a battalion of soldiers into Macedonia 'to monitor the peace there'. The EC had also backed a similar pre-emptive UN operation in Kosovo - although that will require Serbian approval.

But the test of EC determination to hold the line on Bosnia will come on implementation of the UN's no-fly zone, which has repeatedly been breached by the Serbs since it came into force in October.

With Lawrence Eagleburger, the US Secretary of State, sounding out support for a further UN resolution to enforce the zone at a Stockholm meeting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, repeated his warning that action against Serbian aircraft could provoke retaliation against British troops protecting humanitarian aid convoys. He pointed out that as there were no US troops in Bosnia, the Americans did not face that risk.

In his report on Edinburgh, Mr Major told MPs: 'We have called for the Security Council to examine systematically the operation of the no-fly zone. We believe the first step should be for the UN to draw up a report on violations of the zone.'

But EC partners were showing signs of impatience with the step-by-step British approach yesterday. The Dutch government announced that it was willing to send F-16 fighters to enforce the Bosnian no-fly zone.

Roland Dumas, the French Foreign Minister, said that France was asking the UN Security Council to adopt a new resolution permitting the use of force against all Serbian military flights.

Mr Rifkind told BBC radio's Today programme that there was no evidence of combat flights having been conducted by the Serbs, and in response to American pressure for action, he said: 'The Americans don't have any ground forces in Bosnia, not a single American soldier on the ground.'

But Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said during a visit to British troops in the UN Protection Force in Bosnia that he was encouraged by the pressure for tougher military action.

Speaking before a convoy in which he was travelling came under mortar attack - no one was hurt - Mr Ashdown said: 'I think we really have to start gripping this situation, and gripping it hard, or the consequences in the region - and broader - would be a disturbance perhaps leading to a Balkan conflict with incalculable consequences for the future.' Asked for his reaction to the incident, Mr Ashdown harked back to his days in the forces: 'It was a bit like being mortared at any time - a mortar is much the same anywhere.'

Meanwhile, with Mr Rifkind maintaining the Government's defensive position, the Prime Minister's office suggested that Yugoslavia was moving up the diplomatic agenda. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, left yesterday for the CSCE talks in Stockholm, where he will meet Mr Eagleburger, before attending tomorrow's Geneva talks on the former Yugoslavia, and a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

Mr Major flies out to Toronto on Thursday and meets President Bush on Saturday, and Whitehall sources said last night there was a growing belief that the EC would have to get more involved in the former Yugoslavia. The Prime Minister's office added that the options would be considered with the president at the weekend.

But a foretaste of those talks was given by Al Gore, the vice-president elect, who told the BBC that more should be done to enforce the no-fly zone. 'President Bush agrees with that,' he added. 'The resistance and reluctance that has been coming from our European allies I frankly find hard to understand.' At Edinburgh last weekend, that view was increasingly shared by EC partners - with the fire directed at Britain.