Britain studies French plan to set up safe havens

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR disclosed yesterday that a French proposal for protecting Bosnian refugees by providing 'safe havens' close to their homes was being studied by the Government. Responding to charges by the Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, of Government inaction, Mr Major said the safe haven plan was 'an option that deserves, and is receiving, further detailed attention'.

This weekend Mr Ashdown and Sir Russell Johnson, a Liberal Democrat spokesman on foreign affairs, are set to visit detention camps in Bosnia at the invitation of Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs. The two say they will begin a four-day visit tomorrow on two conditions: the presence of a Red Cross official, and freedom to specify locations and whom they speak to. The first condition had still to be met last night.

The move follows a letter from Mr Karadzic criticising Mr Ashdown for his position on Bosnia before assessing the full situation. 'You will find that no (concentration) camps exist in Bosnian-Serb territories,' the letter says.

Mr Major also confirmed that Britain has effectively suspended asylum rules for nationals of the new Balkan republics. 'Unlike other EC countries, they are free to enter the UK as visitors and some 4,000 a month have done so since the crisis began,' he told Mr Ashdown.

Mr Major said that the Government was studying the implications of military intervention. But he said: 'Air power would be unlikely to be enough given the guerrilla nature of the fighting, the terrain and the sort of weapons being used.'

The European Community yesterday called for 'immediate and unconditional access' to all camps, prisons and detention centres in Bosnia so international observers can 'investigate allegations of ill-treatment'.