Britain strives to placate Muslims over Yugoslavia

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The Independent Online
BRITISH diplomats expressed relief yesterday that a meeting of Islamic states had stopped short of sending arms and fighters to Bosnia in defiance of the United Nations, but privately expressed concern that failure to ease the growing plight of Bosnian Muslims might 'poison relations' with the Middle East.

'This thing could lead to a regional souring such that if they see the West as failing to act, they might ask themselves why they should co-operate with us over the Middle East peace process, over Iraq, or over oil in the Gulf,' said one British diplomat. Hardline states such as Iran and Libya presented a more violent threat. The UN had already intercepted several Iranian arms shipments into Bosnia via Croatia, and although such traffic was now under control, it was 'not watertight'.

He was speaking after outraged foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) issued a statement in Jeddah demanding the use of force against Serbs in Bosnia and gave the UN a 15 January deadline to find a solution to the crisis.

Iran and Turkey had argued, against moderates such as Saudi Arabia, that the OIC could take military action without UN approval. Although the final statement stopped short of this, the deadline was an implicit warning from influential states, including Saudi Arabia, that they might be unable to resist mounting Islamic pressure to send arms and fighters to Bosnia. The message is all the more dramatic as the choice of date for the deadline is the same as that imposed by the UN on Iraq before the Gulf war two years ago.

The concerns expressed by UK diplomats reflect the fact that although there is agreement within the Government on resisting military intervention, the Foreign Office is concerned by the need to maintain relations with the Muslim world. Hence, while the Ministry of Defence's job is to express caution about the military risks of intervention, the Foreign Office's job is to signal to the Islamic world that it shares its concerns by promising to consider further measures. This difference has led to reports over the past few days of a 'rift' within the Government.

Asked what is being done to address Muslim demands, diplomats point out that the decision to call a conference on Bosnia in Geneva later this month was directly intended to send a signal to the Muslim world.

Although Lord Owen, the EC negotiator, told the Jeddah meeting there was no chance of a Security Council resolution that would allow outright military intervention, he has made it clear that the West is considering ways to enforce the 'no-fly' zone. The Security Council may meet before 15 January to introduce a mandate for enforcing the ban.

ZAGREB - UN forces in the former Yugoslavia halted flights for 48 hours yesterday after a plane carrying the UN commander in Bosnia was hit by small- arms fire, Reuter reports.

British troops also came under fire today while patrolling in Bosnia, but no one was injured. Two Warrier armoured personnel carriers of the Cheshire Regiment came under mortar and small arms fire at Turbe.

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