Nato obligations would force halt to Army cuts

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BRITISH opposition parties yesterday called on the Government to abandon its plan to cut the armed forces so Britain can meet its obligations to a United Nations peace-keeping force in Bosnia.

The White House confirmed yesterday that planning for possible multilateral enforcement of the Vance-Owen plan is going forward. The United States chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Colin Powell, is understood to have requested an entire British division - about 10,000 troops - or the equivalent. Top British defence sources have made it clear that would be difficult for the Army to sustain and would certainly require a halt or reversal to government plans for army cuts.

Nato is planning a force of 65,000 to 70,000, but it fears that member countries may not be able to commit enough troops to do the job. With the British stretched to provide 5,000, let alone 10,000, much of the burden will inevitably fall on the US. 'There simply are not sufficient infantry battalions to fulfil all the allotted tasks,' said the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Menzies Campbell. 'The requirement to put the equivalent of a division into former Yugoslavia will expose this once again.'

Labour called for the suspension of cuts in the Army, which is to be reduced in strength by 37,000 to 119,000.

Meanwhile, Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, arrived in Paris last night. He will go on to Moscow, Brussels, Bonn and Rome. His chances of persuading the allies to agree to the US plan of military action against the Serbs if they fail to implement the peace plan looked in doubt as the French Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, said: 'We do not think that

air strikes should be made unilaterally. We are not convinced that would have a positive effect on the ground. It appears that the British, too, have their reservations.'

Leaders of Bosnia's Serbs yesterday warned President Bill Clinton against derailing the peace plan with military strikes. However, Mr Clinton vowed to 'keep the pressure up' against the Serbs, saying he would believe their actions on the ground rather than words of peace.

For the second day after the plan was signed, Serbian gunners yesterday bombarded Sarajevo with shells, killing one and wounding 15 people.

The Balkan Crisis, pages 8, 9

Peace or myth, page 19