British troops cool in war zone

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The Independent Online
VITEZ - The British soldier climbs down from his Warrior armoured fighting vehicle and a Bosnian gunman pushes the muzzle of a Kalashnikov rifle into his chest.

'If you want to shoot me, it's your prerogative,' says Sergeant Les Sadler. 'But look over my shoulder and you will see Warriors and Scimitars. If you pull the trigger, your men will die.' Just another day in the life of Two Platoon of the Prince of Wales' Own Yorkshire Regiment, as a veteran from action in Northern Ireland defuses a tense situation.

British UN troops in Bosnia remain stoical in the face of civil war, saying the job of saving lives is still worth doing, despite political concern at home about their safety. The troops' role is to escort international relief convoys through the war zone, evacuate the wounded and dead and protect civilians wherever possible. Their zone of operations is central Bosnia, where fighting between former Muslim and Croat allies has claimed hundreds of lives and forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

They have come under fire and have fired back in anger, but despite an outcry back home in Britain the soldiers themselves do not seem perturbed by the risks involved in carrying out the UN mandate in the former Yugoslavia.

'I do think it's worthwhile,' said Sgt Sadler, 36, from West Houghton in Lancashire. 'When Bosnian soldiers ask for protection, I tell them that's not our job. They chose to put on uniforms and fight. It's not our war. But if we can protect the women and children then we will help as best we can.'

Private Jason McMahon from Hull is only 17 and has been in the army for 11 months. His task in Bosnia is top cover - sticking his head out of the rear hatches of one of the platoon Warriors and keeping his eyes peeled and rifle at the ready as the peacekeepers patrol the roads and villages. 'I like it. It gives me experience. I can't say it's fun exactly, but it stretches us and the Warrior provides good protection,' Pte McMahon said.

Corporal Greg Beardow, 26, has been a soldier for eight years, including two tours in Northern Ireland where British troops on the streets are a target for the IRA. 'If a shot goes off here you ignore it. If it's aimed at you, then you can fire back,' he said, adding that the Warrior's Chobham armour reduced the risks considerably.

Lance-Corporal Jamie West, 25, from York, is an ambulance driver. 'It's the job satisfaction, especially if you save someone's life by taking him to hospital,' he said.

Corporal Mark Fisher, 28, from Harrogate in Yorkshire, said taking risks was part of a soldier's duties. 'Anything can happen to you at any time,' he shrugged. 'That's being a soldier.' Asked about reports that some British politicians were urging the withdrawal of the troops from Bosnia, Cpl Fisher urged the decision-makers to pay a visit to the area. 'They should come and see the situation on the ground themselves before making decisions,' he said.

Two Platoon's commander, Lieutenant Ian Crowley, 24, from Beverley near Hull, said the only complaint he had had from his soldiers was not getting out and about often enough.