UK backs troops for Bosnia: Combat units may protect aid convoys

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH Government yesterday backed military action to protect convoys carrying humanitarian supplies into Bosnia. This may include using British troops as part of a Nato operation.

As negotiations continued in New York to agree a new UN resolution on the use of military force, ministers said that while they still strongly favoured reinforcing existing UN forces in Bosnia, they had not ruled out joint Nato/West European Union units, including British troops, taking part in the operation.

President George Bush said last night that 'all options are open' in getting food and medicine into Bosnia-Herzegovina but he emphasised that he would prefer a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Mr Bush told a news conference after meeting top military and diplomatic advisers that 'the American people must not be led into believing that there is some quick and easy military solution to this problem'.

Britain and other Western countries have come under intense pressure to take a harder line after allegations about the ill- treatment of prisoners in Serb- run detention camps.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said yesterday it had been granted permission by Serbs to visit a dozen camps in northern Bosnia where Muslim and Croat prisoners are alleged to have been tortured and executed. The visits will begin on Wednesday, a spokesman said. Bosnia's Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, proposed handing over control of all such camps to the Red Cross. But there was evidence last night that prisoners were being moved from the most notorious sites, including Omarska. Hundreds of prisoners are believed to have been transferred from the camps.

Douglas Hogg, the Foreign Office Minister of State, said yesterday that Britain was demanding closure of the camps. 'What we are learning about the camps discloses a quite dreadful state of affairs, and may also constitute a series of appalling crimes. It is essential that the international community has immediate access to these camps. It is essential that the camps be closed and that the people held there be removed to safety,' he said.

At the UN last night, the debate behind closed doors was over what type of force should be used. Nato has already drawn up detailed plans, but Britain will take part only if it is clearly limited to protecting aid convoys - and preferably those which already have negotiated passage through the war zone. Senior British sources firmly ruled out any move - as advocated by Baroness Thatcher, the former prime minister - for military action designed to end the fighting and enforce a peace settlement.

The moves towards a compromise between the United States on the one side and the British and French on the other, followed a telephone call between John Major, in Barcelona yesterday, and President Bush. The British were still resisting the terminology then preferred by Mr Bush that the UN would use 'all necessary force' to protect the humanitarian supplies. The British indicated they would accept such terminology only under tightly prescribed limits.

General Sir Peter Inge, chief of staff, flew to the former Yugoslavia yesterday. The MoD said he was visiting 250 personnel in the British field ambulance unit based in Zagreb, Croatia. Whether he extended his visit to Bosnia would 'depend on circumstances', an official said.

David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, said yesterday that the London peace conference planned for 26 August should be urgently brought forward. He added: 'I am increasingly concerned at Britain's willingness to drag its feet on the issue of protecting supply lines for humanitarian aid.'

Bosnia crisis, pages 16 and 17