Allies refuse UN call for more troops

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN, France and the Netherlands yesterday in effect turned down an urgent United Nations request for up to 3,000 more troops to consolidate the ceasefire in Sarajevo. With only four days left before the expiry of Nato's ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to lift the siege of Sarajevo or face air attacks, the three Western allies said they had already contributed enough troops to former Yugoslavia.

'We have carried really more than our fair share,' said the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd. Britain has almost 2,500 troops on UN duty in the area, compared with 6,000 from France and 2,400 from the Netherlands. Other countries such as the United States and Germany have no troops in Bosnia.

Russia, which has 1,200 peacekeeping troops in Croatia, threw a spanner in the UN's works by refusing to let any be transferred to Sarajevo duties. A Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, added to the tension by warning that Russia considered Nato's ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to be illegal.

Senior UN officers said the demilitarisation of Sarajevo had gone well since Nato issued its ultimatum, but that more troops were needed to enforce it properly and extend it across Bosnia. While refusing to say exactly how many heavy weapons the Serbs and Muslim-led Bosnian government forces had handed over to UN control, UN commanders told both sides that there was no way they would get them back now short of using force.

Nato ambassadors in Brussels said they had no intention of prolonging their deadline, which was issued after a single shell killed 68 people at a Sarajevo marketplace on 5 February. Most Western countries assumed the Bosnian Serbs were responsible, but UN military specialists who investigated the attack said yesterday there was too little evidence to establish who fired the 120mm mortar.

Officials in Brussels deny that there are any differences between Nato and the UN over the terms of supervision of heavy weapons, though it is clear that discussions over the next steps if the Bosnian Serbs comply with Nato's ultimatum still continue.

An intensive round of diplomatic consultations is taking place ahead of the deadline. Senior foreign ministry officials of the European Union also met in Brussels yesterday. They discussed a Greek proposal to hold another foreign ministers' meeting before the deadline, but this now seems unlikely, diplomats said. Some delegations saw it as a manoeuvre to hold off air strikes.

Despite British reluctance, Whitehall sources last night refused to rule out the possibility of increasing the number of troops in Bosnia. Senior Cabinet ministers will discuss the issue today.

Britain had up to a brigade of 5,000 troops ready to answer UN requests yesterday. However, these have been trained in peace-keeping and monitoring duties. But the troops needed would include some suited to an intensification of conflict or a withdrawal. They would include artillery and, most important, artillery and mortar-locating radars to pinpoint any heavy weapons which violated the ceasefire or remained outside UN control.

In Paris, the Foreign Ministry last night said France had decided to repatriate the families of its state employees in Belgrade.

Partition and peace, page 20

(Photograph omitted)

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