British general warns of tough 'enforcement'

Click to follow
Croat, Serb and Muslim forces in Bosnia could carry on their scorched-earth policy - burning and destroying homes and other property in areas which are to be transferred under the Dayton peace agreement - for 30 days after the main Nato forces are committed, military sources said yesterday.

About 700 square miles seized by the Muslim-led Bosnian government forces are to be handed back to the Bosnian Serb "entity" in Bosnia under the accord. Croat forces have been torching houses in the biggest area to be transferred, around Mrkonjic Grad, which will be the responsibility of the British contingent.

Tuesday is "D-Day", when United Nations forces in Bosnia will switch to Nato command and additional Nato forces will start moving into Bosnia. Under the Dayton accord, the 60,000-strong Nato peace-implementation force will only have the "right to provide security" in the areas of transfer after "D plus 30" - mid January. But Nato commanders believe that, after yesterday's signing of the agreement in Paris, local factions will be more "circumspect" about doing anything which will "irritate" the Nato implementation force (I-For) the main body of which will be committed on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Once committed, Nato forces hope to deter any opposition to the peace plan. But if they encounter local opposition, senior officers said yesterday, they will use their tanks and artillery to "enforce" it. "I hope I don't have to use them at all," said Major-General Mike Jackson, 51, who is about to leave for Bosnia to command the British-led "multinational division south-west", one of three components of the Nato force.

Implementing the ceasefire is an operation "without precedent" in the history of peace-keeping, said Gen Jackson. "The only one I can think of is the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, but I wouldn't want to push that parallel too far," he said at his headquarters at Bulford, Salisbury Plain, yesterday.

Nato is going in to enforce an agreed ceasefire, something unusual in the history of peacekeeping; normally peacekeeping forces are deployed while negotiations are still taking place.

The British-led division has the largest area of Bosnia, but not the largest in terms of population. The French-led division takes the south- east and the Americans the north. The British-led division, which will have British, Canadian and possibly Pakistani brigades under its command, will have 24 Challenger tanks and 24 self-propelled guns.