Gorazde defence is left to Nato

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Britain will withdraw its peace-keepers from Gorazde within a month, leaving the last government-held enclave in Bosnia to be defended by Nato air power - the very weapon that British and United Nations officials have long insisted was not able to protect the UN- declared "safe areas".

The ineffectual Ukrainian contingent of 90 peace-keepers began to pull out yesterday, while 180 men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers will have left the enclave by the end of September. Alex Ivanko, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo, denied that the UN was abandoning the 60,000 people in Gorazde to the fate met by those in Srebrenica and Zepa, which fell to the Serbs last month.

"The United Nations will continue to be present in one form or another in Gorazde," he said. "There will be people in Gorazde who will inform the UN if there is an attack against Gorazde." In that event, Nato jets would be deployed to attack Bosnian Serb targets, and would have the right to bomb sooner and over a wider range than in the past.

UN officials had long argued that air power was only effective in alliance with ground forces and was therefore unsuitable as a weapon to deter attacks on the six "safe areas", the first of which fell to Serb forces after a pinprick air strike derided by the Bosnian government.

The first hurdle for the UN, however, will be to withdraw peace-keepers safely in the face of potential opposition from both sides. The Ukrainian retreat has already been blocked by Serb soldiers insisting that the hapless troops leave with the equipment they brought in - knowing that government soldiers had stripped them of vehicles and weapons weeks ago. But a thornier problem remains: that civilians fearful of abandonment will block the Britons' exit.

The Sarajevo government, sanguine over the departure of the 90 Ukrainians, has expressed "strong concern" about the fate of the 60,000 people in Gorazde following the withdrawal of the Fusiliers, whose force has been almost halved in the past two months.

But it may come to pass unless the UN can convince the Bosnian government - and its people - that Nato members have mustered the political will and the military might to counter any Serb offensive against the embattled pocket.

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