Britain backs into Bosnia no-fly deal

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN has reluctantly agreed with its Western allies on a draft UN resolution to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia. But the Government has warned that the resolution risks jeopardising Serbian agreement to the peace plan worked out by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance.

The resolution, a largely symbolic gesture to quell public criticism of Western inaction, will probably be introduced at the Security Council this week. British diplomats, always the most reluctant to consider military intervention, warned that if the Bosnian Serb assembly, which meets on Tuesday, had not approved the peace plan first, the resolution could scupper the accord.

Diplomats said the text, drawn up by the US, France, Britain and Spain, after more than a month of talks, would allow a 30-day pause for goodwill before military strikes could be launched, rather than the immediate action sought by Washington. Russia, under pressure from its own pro-Serb hardliners, still has reservations about provisions in the draft to enforce the air exclusion zone for military planes and helicopters established by the UN in October.

The US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, last week accused the British of foot-dragging over the resolution. 'We'll get it sooner or later but there is a good bit of concern, particularly on the part of the British, and it has gone much more slowly than I would like,' he said. 'I must tell you, in my judgement, to a great degree having dithered as long as we have, we lost a good bit of the impact already of any resolution.'

There have been few unauthorised Serb flights in the past month, with Croat planes violating the no-fly zone almost as often. A British diplomat said: 'We were always aware of the relative military insignificance of enforcement. If we are at a totally delicate end-stage with (Radovan) Karadzic, we have to ask Owen about the consequences of imposing this thing which is so unpopular with the Serbs.'

Mr Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, has said he believes he can get parliamentary approval for the Vance-Owen proposal for a sovereign Bosnia with 10 autonomous provinces reflecting the Moslem-Serb-Croat ethnic mix. But he warned: 'I think it is going to be a very hard time for me. . . The radicals are rising up because I am too moderate.'

London is putting heavy emphasis on the EC-US plan to isolate Serbia if the peace process collapses. Experienced customs officials from EC countries will help to step up reinforcement of border posts to ensure that main road and rail links are closed if the Geneva talks end in failure.

Meanwhile, senior ministers continued to emphasise yesterday that the reinforcements announced last week were to protect existing forces, not as a prelude to military intervention. They are anxious to calm backbench concerns that the UK will be drawn deeper into the conflict.

Foreign Office sources stressed that the decision had been driven by the Ministry of Defence in response to requests from service chiefs. The reinforcements will provide extra protection for troops escorting humanitarian aid convoys.

Owen casts a spell, page 14