VE Day visitor runs risk of peace protest in his ear

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The Croatian president Franjo Tudjman could be taken to one side and a sharp warning whispered in his ear if, as planned, he takes his place at the VE Day ceremony in London.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, told MPs the invitation to President Tudjman was being kept "under review", but in an emergency statement on the Balkans flare-up he indicated the visit might be used for some diplomatic arm-twisting.

"It may be a useful opportunity to ram home to him the views of the Government and this House about the risks which he is taking and the dangers he is incurring for his people as well as for his neighbours," Mr Hurd said.

Responding to an emergency question by Robin Cook, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, he noted that Croatia wanted closer relations with the European Union. "We support this. But the way in which it goes ahead must depend on the Croatian attitude to the peace process - and the Croatian attitude to the peace process ... has taken a downward spin during the last few days." Raising President Tudjman's visit, Mr Cook asked if ministers thought it appropriate "that the celebration of peace in Europe should be attended by the government that has just broken the peace". If they did, the opportunity should be taken to impress upon the president that there should be no more assaults on UN-protected areas.

Mr Cook said it has been a condition of discussions on Croatia's bid for EU association status that UN troops should remain in place in protected areas. "Does not its invasion of one of those protected areas - the Sector West pocket of the Krajina Serbs - make a mockery of that undertaking?"

He condemned the retaliatory Serb rocket attack on Zagreb as "not a courageous act of war, but a cowardly act of terrorism".

Mr Hurd met growing Tory rumblings about a withdrawal of British troops with repeated references to John Major's warning that a return to all- out war would make the position of UN forces untenable.

"Those concerned with ordering the fighting should not take the presence of our troops or the UN troops for granted." But he stressed there was still a "ragged peace" in Bosnia and no fighting in the area where British troops are deployed.

The most extreme position was put by Nicholas Budgen, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton SW, who told the House: "All this grand but ineffectual lecturing gives the impression that we are responsible for these horrible events.

"Is it not now time that the Government recognise that there never was a British national interest in this battle in the Balkans and that the British people are not prepared to risk their treasure or their troops in this Balkans fight, and that the sooner we disengage the better?"

Mr Hurd replied: "I have made it clear over the years that not only are we not responsible, either as Britain or as a part of the EU, for this tragedy, but nor can we solve it from outside.

"Mr Budgen belongs, and has always belonged, to the school of 'Let them fight it out', which is opposed to the school of 'Something must be done'. I have had, I must say, over the years a bit of impatience with both bodies of opinion.

"In my view, there are certain things which we cannot do and should not pretend to do, and one of them is impose peace, a just peace or an unjust peace, on a particular part of the Balkans.

"But there are things we can do, where we can actually save lives and give aid and food, which is what we are doing. We have carried over 20 per cent, the British, of the entire UNHCR airlift to Sarajevo; our lorries, ODA lorries, constitute 25 per cent of the convoy effort; our engineers have provided shelter for 20,000 refugees, 350 projects, gas, water and electricity; our engineers have built the bridge connecting east and west Mostar after that devastation. They couldn't have done it without the presence of troops to help them. To say that we should not, as Britain, do things which we can do must also, I think, be wrong."

A Tory backbencher, David Amess, focused on another wrong with a Bill to prohibit Government funding of any body that supports enforced abortion, sterilisation or family planning.

China was the Basildon MP's target. His Bill will not become law but would, he said, send a clear message to Beijing that British support could no longer be used as an argument for the abuse of fundamental human rights. "The Chinese government have trampled parents' rights into the ground and imposed birth control on women who simply don't want it," he said. "Desperate women about to give birth to an illegal child have sought help in a hospital only to have the child killed immediately after birth by drowning or an injection."

Mr Amess suggested the UN Population Fund had supported China's policy. But later an Overseas Development Administration spokesman said the British- assisted UN fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation both opposed all coercive policies.