Tensions surface over stance on Bosnia conflict

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Indy Politics
TENSIONS within the Government over the conflict in the former Yugoslavia became apparent yesterday as Douglas Hogg, the Foreign Office Minister of State, told MPs that the West would not allow Bosnia to be 'fragmented' or eaten up by aggressors.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, continued to warn that there was no 'easy solution' to the country's problems.

After John Major's rejection of military invention on Thursday, Mr Hogg took a robust line in a Commons debate on the United Nations over any attempt to partition the country.

He told MPs: 'We are not in the business of allowing Bosnia to be partitioned up, and we are not in the business of allowing those frontiers to be disturbed by force.

'If we do allow that to happen then there will be anarchy in central and eastern Europe, and to these principles we will hold.'

He added: 'We will not allow that country to be fragmented, occupied by others, eaten up by aggressors or partitioned. Anybody who supposes that the western world will accept that is making a very grave error indeed.'

What was happening in Bosnia was a crime, he said. 'It is the worst tragedy in Europe since the end of the Second World War.' On Thursday, Mr Major said that if further action was needed to enforce the no-fly zone, 'we should wish to consider that with our allies and partners in the UN'. But yesterday, Mr Hogg said he would be 'very surprised indeed' if the Security Council allowed grave breaches to go unpunished.

'If the Serbs use force in Kosovo, that would introduce a new dimension to policy making and it would be gravely contrary to the interests of the government of Serbia to embark on such an exploit.'

Mr Hogg's line did not directly contradict the distinction Mr Rifkind and others have drawn between a civil war in Bosnia and the formal invasion of one country by another. Indeed he went out of his way to agree with Cyril Townsend, the Conservative MP for Bexleyheath who opened the debate, that Britain should concentrate on humanitarian aid and not take sides.

But his message to Serbia was couched in stark terms against the very cautious line other ministers have taken recently over any further military involvement in the former Yugoslavia. In a speech in Ewell, Surrey, yesterday, Mr Rifkind acknowledged the 'frustration' of Bosnia and the whole of the former Yugoslavia, saying it was only too apparent. But he warned again: 'There is no easy solution. We must do what we can, and what is practical.'

In the debate, Mr Townsend urged both the Government and the UN not to become a party to the Bosnian dispute by bombing Serbian artillery positions, as this could lead to the eventual forced withdrawal of humanitarian aid.

British troops had been given 'an almost impossible task', sitting in white boxes with no artillery or air cover and coming under fire, he said.

But Mr Townsend welcomed the UN decision to allow US troops into Somalia, saying it would transform the position.

The UN would, however, need to take over the country's administration until it could stand on its own feet, he said. 'The UN should have the capacity to run for perhaps five or 10 years an independent sovereign country and frankly bring it back to a state where it can be independent and sovereign again, and have its own elected parliament.'

Allan Rogers, a Labour foreign affairs spokesman, welcomed the use of troops in Somalia, but doubted they could complete the operation by the end of January.

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