Nato considers strategy

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BRUSSELS (Agencies) - Nato military strategists prepared yesterday for possible intervention in Bosnia to protect humanitarian aid convoys, weighing the risks of such an operation ahead of a meeting of the ambassadors of the 16 member countries on Friday.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss two proposed draft resolutions, one clearing the way for the use of force to protect aid deliveries, the other demanding access to the prison camps in Bosnia. The Council is expected to vote on the resolutions today.

Nato's International Military Staffs - its top planning cell - has been examining three options in increasing order of gravity: maritime sanctions, providing observers and humanitarian assistance and, finally, protected corridors into Bosnia. Friday's meeting will discuss the options, but will not take any decision on whether to activate them.

Military experts said one of the main problems lay in the number of troops needed to protect convoys travelling to the Bosnian capital. At least 12,000 would be needed to secure Sarajevo airport alone, but up to 100,000 would be needed to protect the humanitarian 'corridors'.

In Washington, the Bush administration warned against military action in Bosnia. Stephen Hadley, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, said: 'If we try to impose a solution . . . it will require a very large force that would have to use violence to stop violence.

'We would have, in essence, an occupation force continually at risk,' Mr Hadley told the Senate Armed Services Committee as Congress pressed for a stronger show of military power.

Lieutenant-General Barry McCaffrey, assistant to the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the UN would need 400,000 troops and a year to stop the violence, with no guarantee it would not resume after the troops were withdrawn.

While the Security Council is expected to vote for the resolutions, questions remain over whether the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will recommend that the UN Protection Force be withdrawn if military forces are sent to protect aid convoys.

'When and if there is an incident' involving Nato military escorts and the Serbian attackers, 'the UN force may well be attacked in retaliation', a military attache warned yesterday.