Cabinet backs sending more troops to Bosnia: Major ready to send reinforcements in response to General Rose's call as British forces in Zepce come under mortar attack

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THE BRITISH government was last night negotiating in earnest about sending more troops to Bosnia as Douglas Hurd admitted publicly that British soldiers there were under strain.

The Foreign Secretary's statement came as thinly spread British forces with the United Nations in central Bosnia were attacked and a British officer said he would call in air strikes if it happened again.

Mr Hurd's clear signal that Britain was ready to send more troops as part of an international effort underlined that the Cabinet has come down in favour of heeding the urgent request for reinforcements by Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, commander of the UN forces in Bosnia. Intensive talks were under way at the UN in New York on the precise deployments needed to make up 10,650 extra troops.

Mr Hurd said that reinforcements were needed not only to protect troops and humanitarian convoys but also to carry out the 'agreements the UN has negotiated'.

Mr Hurd reiterated that the UN request had not been made to Britain alone. 'We, with the French, the Dutch, the Spanish and the Canadians, are doing the lion's share already. But the need is clear, as is the strain on British troops already there.'

Attempts by France and Britain to persuade the United States - which has said that it will provide ground troops only when an overall peace settlement been achieved - appeared to be in vain. However, a detachment of Italian troops might participate.

Pressure for Western action mounted as Croat sources quoted the British commander of the Light Dragoons squadron in Zepce, Major Patrick Darling, as saying he would call for air strikes if his troops came under fire again. UN sources said there had been mortar attacks on the British base on Thursday and yesterday, one bomb landing near the main building.

'The assessment is that it was a deliberate attack, most likely from the Bosnian Serb army positions, because there are no military or civilian targets in the area,' military sources said.

While truce agreements have led to most battle fronts falling quiet, the conflict is far from over and brutal treatment of civilians remains the rule rather than the exception. The complications of peace-keeping were demonstrated in central Bosnia in the Croat-held Vitez pocket, where the UN has placed soldiers in armoured vehicles at checkpoints on the Muslim-Croat front.

British troops' burden, page 8

Letters, page 11