Court decision on no-fly zone relieves Bonn: Forces will be active outside the Nato area for first time since the Second World War

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THE decision by the German constitutional court yesterday to allow German air crews to take part in Nato flights over Bosnia will come as an enormous relief to the German government.

It brings to an end months of domestic wrangling over whether or not German forces should be allowed to participate in actions outside the Nato area. The ruling coalition parties had, in effect, abdicated its responsibility to reach a joint decision and passed the responsibility to the constitutional court in Karlsruhe.

The Nato Secretary-General, Manfred Worner, told the court that the participation of German crews in flying the Awacs surveillance planes, was 'decisive'. The Awacs will play a key role in enforcing the no-fly zone, which is to begin on Monday. A third of the Awacs crews are German, and Mr Worner warned that without their participation 'things would go badly'. The Free Democrats, junior partners in the ruling coalition, had asked the court for a temporary ban on German flights until the legality of participation was established.

The judges refused the appeal of the Free Democrats and of the opposition Social Democrats. The Free Democrats had earlier suggested that if the court rejected their request, and if the Christian Democrats went ahead without waiting for a constitutional judgment, then they were prepared to break up the coalition over the issue.

The court's judgment said that the applications for a temporary ban were not unreasonable, but they had to be rejected because otherwise there would be severe repercussions for Germany, especially in terms of foreign policy. The mention of foreign policy considerations suggested that the court's main task appeared to be to avert a political crisis, rather than to look at the strictly legal aspects of the affair.

The no-fly enforcement will be Nato's first-ever combat operation. The decision to begin on Monday follows a series of difficult wrangles that bode ill for any future engagement in the former Yugoslavia. Aircraft will be allowed to fire on intruders only if attacked, or after giving warnings to planes to leave the zone.

France had raised misgivings about the mission, saying that it feared for the security of its troops in Bosnia. It wanted tighter control over when the aircraft were authorised to shoot. French objections were overcome yesterday by agreeing to consult the UN 'in line with the resolution, which calls for close co-ordination', said Mr Worner, yesterday.

In The Hague yesterday, the World Court granted Bosnian Muslims emergency protection from what they say is Serbian genocide aimed at exterminating them and their culture. The court ordered that the 'Federal Republic (of Yugoslavia) should immediately . . . take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of the crime of genocide'.

The court also ordered the rump Yugoslavia to 'in particular ensure that military, paramilitary or irregular armed units' under its control should cease to take part in any acts of genocide.

The World Court has no enforcement powers. However, the ruling is likely to further isolate Serbia on the world stage.