Parliament and Politics: Hurd warns against military role in Bosnia

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MILITARY intervention to stop the civil war in Bosnia would bring a halt to humanitarian aid and add to the death toll, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, warned yesterday, as MPs on both sides of the Commons called for tougher action to end the carnage.

Mr Hurd said he felt that military action would have been morally justified if it could have been effective in bringing the atrocities to an end. 'It is quite natural that people watching the atrocities on television, seeing the bombardment of Sarajevo and seeing the emaciated figures emerging from the camps should urge military action by air or land against those responsible.'

Britain, other European Community countries, the US and the UN had all looked at the military options, the possibility of air strikes against hillside gun positions and bases inside Serbia, Mr Hurd said on the second and final day of the emergency session.

The Commons was recalled from its long summer recess in order to debate the devaluation of sterling and the crisis in the former Yugoslavia.

Air strikes had been looked at he said. 'But given the terrain, given the weapons being used for most of the killing, given the way in which civilians and military, Croats, Muslims and Serbs, lived side by side, the likelihood that military action of this kind would immediately bring to an end the humanitarian activities of the Red Cross and the High Commission for Refugees, we and our allies and partners have come down against that option each time it has been considered.'

Mr Hurd said the West could not act as a 'colonial power' in eastern Europe. It had to use diplomacy backed by sanctions. During the next fortnight the European Community and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe would be sending teams of experts to advise customs in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania on how to deter sanctions cheating.

The Foreign Secretary agreed with Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, that there should be a 'no-fly zone' enforced over Bosnia. The best way might be to have monitors on the airfields, Mr Hurd said.

Winding up the debate, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, emphasised that the 1,800 British troops preparing to go to Bosnia would not be deployed unless the UN relief supply convoys they are to escort could get through in reasonable safety.

Though he hoped deployments could go ahead in early November, Mr Rifkind said no one knew the level of danger the troops would face.

He indicated that the British reconnaissance party already in Bosnia was not yet satisfied that there could be reasonably safe passage to Tuzla and Duboj - the towns to which British troops would escort relief supplies.

Jack Cunningham, in his first Commons speech as Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, backed the deployment of British troops under UN auspices and urged more effective monitoring of sanctions against Serbia across frontiers. He also called on Mr Hurd to use Britain's EC presidency to resolve the dispute over the recognition of Macedonia, which is opposed by Greece.

Tom King, the former defence secretary, supported deployment of British troops, but warned: 'By any military standards, the former Yugoslavia is a textbook example of where this country should not get involved . . . There are no clear objectives and there is every prospect of getting sucked into a binding commitment.'

Myths of Sarajevo, page 25