Thatcher right on Bosnia, say 14 Labour MPs: Party moderates sign demand for armed intervention. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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Indy Politics
FOURTEEN Labour MPs yesterday backed Baroness Thatcher's call for Western troops to halt the slaughter of civilians by Bosnian Serbs, temporarily embarrassing the party's high command.

An uncompromising statement by MPs from all wings of the party was being contrasted to the more restrained criticism of the Government by John Smith, their leader, in the Commons on Thursday. But last night Mr Smith joined the international outcry by saying that an ultimatum should be issued to Serb forces, with United Nations air strikes to follow if they ignored it.

The earlier call by the 14 MPs followed an editorial in the left-wing Tribune newspaper which opened with the remarkable wording 'Margaret Thatcher is right', before denouncing Labour's response as 'miserably inadequate'.

Yesterday's statement was signed by moderate MPs such as Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North-West) and Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool), and two members of Labour's front bench, Tony Banks (Newham NW) and Keith Vaz (Leicester East). The other MPs are Peter Hain (Neath), Calum MacDonald (Western Isles), Chris Mullin (Sunderland South), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Max Madden (Bradford West), John Austin-Walker (Woolwich), Hugh Bayley (York), Mike Watson (Glasgow Central), John Gunnell (Leeds South and Morley), and Frank Field (Birkenhead).

The attack on what the MPs called Government hand-wringing that 'smacks of appeasement' came as Lady Thatcher's office confirmed her plans to travel to Croatia to receive an honorary degree at the invitation of President Franjo Tudjman. There are fears that she will use the trip to reinforce her criticisms of British and EC policy.

The MPs' statement says: 'Sanctions alone will take too long to be effective. Serbian territorial aggression must be checked and the 'ethnic cleansing' stopped. If this can be achieved by the threat or use of air power alone, that would be preferable; but if it requires active engagement of troops on the ground, we believe the crisis in Bosnia merits that scale of commitment.'

Mr Wicks said the initiative was not simply a response to Lady Thatcher, but added: 'She is right about this. The group contains a lot of people from the anti-militarist wing of the Labour Party, but they are committed to the idea that there should be ethical principles underlying British foreign policy.'

(Photograph omitted)