Britain and France clash over Bosnia

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The Independent Online
A DIPLOMATIC row erupted between Britain and France yesterday, illustrating how far they were from persuading Bosnia's factions to accept a settlement when even the two closest of allies could not keep the peace among themselves.

Angry British diplomats complained how 'unhelpful' it was of Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, to announce that Western powers and Russia would hold a make-or-break meeting on 13 June - when no such date or meeting had been agreed yet.

Mr Juppe said that if no progress had been made by 13 June, France would begin to withdraw its UN peace-keepers from Bosnia. 'If nothing has happened by then, if no progress has been made on the road to peace, if we see that no settlement is taking shape, then . . . France will have to draw the consequences,' he said.

But British officials said that the powers concerned were still in consultation about the meeting proposal, and that the first they had heard of the French announcement was the news yesterday morning.

British officials admitted that it would be 'very difficult' for Britain, after France the biggest troop contributor to Bosnia, to keep its forces there should the French pull out. And, one added, 'I'd be a rash man to put a month's salary on the French being there by next winter.'

It was the latest in a series of threats by France and Britain to withdraw their troops. Douglas Hogg, the Foreign Office Minister, said on Wednesday that time was running out and Britain had 'eight weeks or so' to see positive developments in the peace process.

One British official called again for the United States to persuade Muslims to accept a settlement of 51 per cent for the Muslim-Croat side and 49 per cent for the Serbs. 'The reality now is that the Serbs are not going to roll back, and 49-51 is the sensible thing to aim at. The Muslims have got to come to terms with that. It is a blunt message, and it would be even more effective if said in an American accent.' The Muslims have been holding out in the hope that their American ally will push through a lifting of the UN arms embargo to allow them to fight on.

In Bosnia, Serbian and Muslim forces clashed on several fronts, apparently disregarding British and French threats to pull out their troops unless a peace agreement is reached. UN military observers reported mortar fire on the Muslim- held town of Bugojno in central Bosnia, and Muslim-run Sarajevo Radio said that two people had been wounded in nearby Zenica when Serbian forces fired 17 shells.

The Bosnian Serb army said that Muslim forces from Kladanj, in east-central Bosnia, launched attacks against two Serbian villages on Wednesday night and yesterday morning. The Muslims last week started a thrust against Serbian positions designed to cut off the Bosnian Serb political headquarters, at Pale outside Sarajevo, from Serbia.

A Belgrade newspaper, Vecernje Novosti, reported that last Tuesday Muslim forces captured an important peak on Mount Ozren, a mountain overlooking Tuzla, the northern Muslim stronghold. Tuzla and its airport, which is under UN control, have come under Serbian fire this week, but yesterday, with Nato fighters patrolling overhead, a UN aircraft succeeded in landing at the airport. It delivered radar equipment to a battalion of Jordanian peace-keepers.

A British and French withdrawal from Bosnia would in some ways please the Bosnian Serbs, who believe that the UN peace-keeping and humanitarian aid operations have helped sustain the Muslim war effort. On the other hand, the Bosnian Serbs are keen to negotiate a general ceasefire while they remain in control of 70 per cent of Bosnia and they suspect that a British and French withdrawal would mean a prolongation of the war - and trade and credit sanctions against Serbia.

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