Hurd wins through to Army's 'Wild West' base: Christopher Bellamy joined the Foreign Secretary on the icy road to Vitez

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS HURD yesterday received the 'vivid impression' of conditions in Bosnia which was the avowed purpose of his visit to British UN peace-keeping troops.

Arriving in Tomislavgrad by helicopter from Split, he travelled by mountain road through to Vitez. Temperatures were about -5C, with a metre (three feet) of snow. Several times his vehicle had to pull to the side of the road to let UN convoys pass in the opposite direction. He stopped on the way at a British base at Gornji Vakuf, on the front line between Croatian and Muslim forces, reaching the main British base at Vitez in darkness.

Speaking in a light snowfall at a British outpost 14 kilometres (nine miles) up the mountain road into central Bosnia, the Foreign Secretary refused to commit himself on when the British contingent might be withdrawn. A decision was 'not imminent', he said. But there is no doubt that, sooner or later, that decision has to be made and British troops in Bosnia are feeling increasingly that their efforts are wasted on an ungrateful and even hostile populace.

Mr Hurd admitted that 'a certain amount of aid goes astray'. Many soldiers think most of it is going to troops of the Bosnian factions and prolonging the war. Mr Hurd said the operation in support of UN aid was costing a lot of money and he needed to see that 'the good that is done outweighs the risks that exist. We haven't reached any conclusions'.

The Government has ruled out unilateral British withdrawal, but Mr Hurd will be talking to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in New York at the end of the month.

Mr Hurd avoided Sarajevo, the key political centre, and will not meet top UN staff when he passes through the UN headquarters at Kiseljak this morning. He will meet Brigadier Angus Ramsey, the British chief of staff at the UN headquarters.

Mr Hurd arrived at Tomislavgrad yesterday morning accompanied by a few officials and senior afficers.

His first stop was the Royal Engineers' outpost - a Wild West style fort called Redoubt. 'It's just over the height of Ben Nevis, and it gets chilly,' explained Major Alan Macklin of 11 Field Squadron Royal Engineers, who is in charge of keeping the route open.

With ordinary trousers tucked into grey socks as a concession to snowy conditions for which he hardly looked equipped, Mr Hurd said the troops were still saving lives. 'This road was built by the Sappers (Royal Engineers). It's the only main road from the coast into central Bosnia.'

Mr Hurd announced that the Government was giving another pounds 5m to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, bringing the total British aid directed into Bosnia to pounds 160m.

Tension after deal, page 10