Don't risk UK troops in Bosnia, says poll: As more refugees head for this country, a survey shows little enthusiasm for offering them a haven here

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE is strong public support for sending British troops to Bosnia as part of an international force - but only for humanitarian and peace-keeping tasks, not to engage in fighting.

An NOP poll for the Independent on Sunday also finds little public enthusiasm for taking in refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Only 33 per cent want the rules changed to allow more refugees into Britain, while almost twice as many - 60 per cent - think the rules should be left as they are.

People are following the conflict closely but are reluctant to take sides and confused about detail, the poll shows. Two out of three could not name the capital of Bosnia (Sarajevo), and fewer still could identify Serbia as the country against which the UN has declared a trade embargo. Almost 60 per cent expressed no particular sympathy with any party to the conflict; 34 per cent backed Bosnia.

The poll findings about refugees and military intervention will be welcomed by the Government. As reports of prison camps and atrocities have emerged from Bosnia in the past 10 days, pressure has grown from right and left for Britain to commit itself to a deeper involvement in the conflict on the side of Bosnia.

This has been something that John Major and Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, as well as President George Bush, have been anxious to avoid. The Government has also been attacked for its policy on refugees, particularly since it emerged last week that a number of Yugoslav asylum-seekers had been deported.

But the poll also shows that the Government has no grounds for self-congratulation. Only 27 per cent were satisfied with the way it was handling the crisis; 53 per cent are dissatisfied. This compares badly with the picture two years ago after Iraq invaded Kuwait, when 62 per cent were satisfied with the Government's conduct.

The poll finds that 86 per cent think Britain should send troops to help protect aid convoys into Bosnia; only 11 per cent disagree. And 61 per cent favour sending troops as part of an international force which would keep Serb and Bosnian forces apart.

As for any deeper commitment, the public is very cautious. Reacting to the statement, 'Britain should keep clear of any military action in Yugoslavia, as the situation does not justify putting British lives at risk,' 51 per cent agreed and 38 per cent disagreed.

Only 37 per cent share the view of Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, that Britain should be prepared to send the RAF, in co-operation with other Western countries, to bomb Serbian artillery positions. And just 13 per cent agree with Baroness Thatcher that Britain should supply arms to Bosnia.

In response to the statement that 'Britain should not send troops to Yugoslavia as it would end up like Vietnam with the fighting going on for years', 53 per cent said they agreed, while 35 per cent disagreed.

Events in the Bosnian war yesterday did little to dispel that foreboding of a long conflict. In Brussels, EC-sponsored peace talks broke up early without progress. The EC mediator, Jose Cutileiro, met Radovan Karadzic and Mate Boban, Bosnia's Serb and Croat leaders respectively. But Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, stayed away, accusing Bosnian Serbs of warmongering. 'They have to choose between war and negotiations,' he said. Also absent was Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President.

However, in Bosnia itself a UN relief convoy reached the eastern Muslim town of Gorazde, where 70,000 people have been under Serbian siege for four months. After being delayed by Serbian militia, caught twice in crossfire and having to remove mines from a bridge, eight trucks carrying 46 tons of food from Sarajevo arrived in Gorazde at 4.45pm local time, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sarajevo said.

Ukrainian troops, manning three armoured personnel carriers, escorted the convoy on a circuitous route that took almost 10 hours to reach the town, 30 miles east of Sarajevo. On its return journey the convoy had to stop for the night in open country nine miles outside Gorazde after Muslim and Croat militiamen refused to clear mines from a road bridge.

Preparations to provide wider international protection for aid convoys into Bosnia continued. Spain, France and Turkey have offered to send troops for the task and the US Navy ordered the aircraft carrier Saratoga and its 80 warplanes to move into the Adriatic closer to Bosnia, Defense Department sources said.

British ministers say that the aid agencies have not yet asked for extra military protection for convoys. At present only the convoys travelling between Split and Sarajevo have regular military escorts. Nato planners are due to reconvene on 24 August to discuss their contingency plans after a decision to defer discussions despite a French proposal to send 1,100 troops to back up the UN resolution.

There is no sign in the NOP poll that attitudes to the crisis have disturbed domestic party loyalties. Views on all the questions posed by NOP cross party lines. In current voting intentions, the Conservatives retain a narrow lead over Labour. Forty-three per cent say they would vote Conservative if an election were held now (no change since April's general election); 39 per cent would vote Labour (up 4); 14 per cent back the Liberal Democrats (down 4).

NOP interviewed 1,072 people throughout Britain on Friday.

Poll details, page 16

Background to conflict, page 17

Leading article, page 22

(Photograph omitted)

Comments