BOSNIA CRISIS: PARIS ULTIMATUM: France throws down gauntlet

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The Independent Online
President Jacques Chirac appealed to France's allies yesterday to join in an operation to guarantee the security of the Muslim enclaves in former Yugoslavia, saying that if the UN forces did nothing, they would in effect be "accomplices to ethnic cleansing". But he stopped short of repeating his earlier call for the re-establishment of the safe area around Srebrenica and mentioned no deadline for any decision.

Mr Chirac was speaking at a press conference held to mark France's national holiday, Bastille Day. The press conference was held shortly after the traditional military parade in which units serving with the UN forces in Bosnia were strongly represented, and before the Defence Minister, Charles Millon, set off for his first visit to French troops serving with Unprofor in Bosnia.

Since the fall of Srebrenica, France has consistently called for the West to take a much tougher line with the Bosnian Serbs, occasionally hinting at the possibility of unilateral action if no support is forthcoming.

Speaking in a radio interview yesterday morning, Mr Millon surprised observers by not only repeating earlier French calls for the safe zone around Srebrenica to be re-established, but setting a deadline of 48 hours for France's allies to respond. "A resolute and limited operation" was needed, he said, "to defend a certain conception of democracy and freedom".

He went on: "It is a matter of great urgency to respond to the Serbian operation in Srebrenica ... If we do not have a reply in 48 hours from the major Western countries, France will have to draw the consequences."

Mr Chirac, although forceful in his words, implied that France now recognised the loss of Srebrenica as final and was looking to other options. These included strengthening the remaining safe areas in eastern Bosnia and opening a secure corridor to Sarajevo - something that France has long insisted on.

Amid much high-flown rhetoric, comparisons with the situation facing Chamberlain and Daladier before Munich, and laments that France stood alone in upholding the principles of the UN mandate in Bosnia, Mr Chirac said: "If no one wants to be involved in re- establishing the safe zone of Srebrenica, at least we should guarantee the safe zone of Gorazde, where the British troops are deployed, by defending it properly."

He went on: "If we do what we did in Srebrenica - that is, leave as soon as the first Serbs arrive, then it is futile even to pretend to be making an effort."

He concluded: "We should also act to ensure that Sarajevo is properly protected and access to the city is guaranteed. If we do not want to do anything at all, then it is hard to see the presence of the UN forces as anything other than some sort of accomplice to this barbarism and the methods of ethnic cleansing."

Mr Chirac seemed to be saying that he had dropped his knee-jerk call earlier in the week for the Srebrenica safe zone to be restored at any cost and would settle for ensuring that nothing similar could happen again. By selecting Gorazde as the test, he also throws down the gauntlet to Britain.

Although the French President's replies yesterday marked a retreat from his earlier position, it is a retreat that can be made to look to the home audience like a victory. By insisting on restoring the first lost enclave and proposing the use of force, France has presented herself as the sole genuine defender of the UN mandate. The only reason such an operation was not able to go ahead, so Mr Chirac argued, was because none of France's allies was prepared to join in.