Hurd hints aid to Bosnia could be withdrawn

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday issued a warning to the warring parties in Bosnia that they could not expect humanitarian aid to go on indefinitely if there was no progress to a peace settlement.

European Union foreign ministers and Lord Owen, their envoy, meet on Monday to consider ways of restarting the Bosnia political process. But Mr Hurd, opening the second day of debate on the Queen's Speech, hinted that patience was wearing thin. The onus was on the Serbs to make further territorial concessions to meet Muslim demands in the Geneva talks, he said.

While reaffirming Britain's commitment to the peace process and the humanitarian task he told the Commons: 'If the present political vacuum and lack of co-operation persists, the parties cannot expect the humanitarian commitment to continue indefinitely.'

David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, interpreted this as 'a signal to the world that we are contemplating the withdrawal of British troops from Bosnia'. He said: 'If that is the case, I would regret it. British troops should stay in Bosnia as long as their mission is attainable. We can't stand by and let tens of thousands of people on all sides perish.'

Mr Hurd said that outsiders could help bring the leaders together and help keep Bosnians alive, but only the communities could end the war. 'Without a political settlement there is a real risk of a humanitarian disaster this winter.'

British troops have escorted 1,500 convoys, getting 70,000 tons of aid through. The RAF Hercules airlift to Sarajevo has carried in nearly 12,000 tons. Britain has contributed more than pounds 150m in bilateral and EU aid.

Mr Hurd said the roads carrying aid had to be kept open. They wanted to open up the route from Metkovic and Split into central Bosnia - an area where British forces are operating. But he said: 'It is unrealistic to suppose that this effort, whether it is convoys or the troops escorting them, can be expected to go on for ever and ever when it is not receiving local co-operation and there is no progress towards a settlement.'

Jack Cunningham, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said he shared Mr Hurd's view on the culpability of the political leaders in continuing to fight despite endless opportunities to reach agreement. But he criticised the EU for not stepping up aid and troop numbers following the Brussels declaration last month.

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