Major and Clinton talk tactics

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR and Bill Clinton had a 10- minute telephone conversation last night about the Gorazde crisis. British officials said while some details remained private, the Prime Minister and President agreed about the need to back the UN.

They discussed 'prospects for a ceasefire' and a UN presence in Gorazde. The President expressed his sympathy about the latest death of a British soldier.

Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, is likely to make a Commons statement today on the British casualties after hitting back yesterday at criticism levelled at Western powers for not doing enough to curb Serbian aggression.

Mr Rifkind will give details of the shooting in Sarajevo early yesterday of Timothy Coates, 28, a Royal Marine of 42 Commando, from St Leonards, East Sussex. The UN said he was off duty and in civilian clothes, and is believed to have failed to stop at a Bosnian government checkpoint. He was the fourth Briton with the UN to die in Bosnia. A British Sea Harrier pilot ejected safely on Saturday after Serbs shot down his aircraft over Gorazde. On Friday, Corporal Fergus Rennie, 28, who was acting as a forward observer in the town for UN aircraft, was killed and an SAS colleague injured.

Mr Rifkind attacked 'armchair commentators' who had made the 'facile' suggestion that all the combatants could be bombed into submission. Mr Rifkind insisted that the UN role was humanitarian and peace-keeping and that air strikes had been used to protect its forces. He urged those countries which had pledged more troops to Bosnia to 'get their act together a bit more quickly'. Jack Cunningham, Labour foreign affairs spokesman, said that the Serbs could see there was indecision and vacillation by Nato leaders.

Amid signs of deepening Tory unease over Britain being drawn into worsening conflict, Mr Rifkind indicated support for the warning by Yasushi Akashi, UN special representative in Bosnia, that it would be 'meaningless' for the UN to continue in Bosnia if the Serbs did not co- operate in securing a ceasefire.

Two former Tory defence ministers, Alan Clark and Archie Hamilton, suggested that British and UN forces might have to withdraw. Mr Clark said Britain was being pushed into taking sides.

Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrat leader, said last night: 'Unless the UN is prepared to mark a clear line which it is willing to defend in Bosnia . . . it will lose all capacity to control events and must inevitably have to start considering a humiliating and damaging withdrawal.'