Germany in a bind over intervention

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THE MAIN headline yesterday in Bild, Germany's biggest selling daily, on the killings in Sarajevo was simple: 'Bomb the murderers]' A leading article complained of the politicians' 'helpless stammering', and argued: 'Either do something, or say nothing] The hypocrisy is unbearable.'

Bild's reaction was echoed by other German newspapers and by politicians across the political divide. Following a now familiar pattern, Germany has taken an almost unanimously strong line on the need for action to stop the Serbian attacks.

Karl Lamers, foreign affairs spokesman of the Christian Democrats, even hinted that Bonn, given its strong statements on Bosnia, might have to consider allowing German troops to be sent to the former Yugoslavia. This would be a momentous change, since both government and opposition have, until now, agreed that German troops should not be sent into areas occupied by Germany during the Second World War.

Mr Lamers argued: 'We cannot issue demands that in essence mean that we will fight to the last Briton, Frenchman or Spaniard.'

The moral absolutism about former Yugoslavia is partly the result of Germany's own historical experience - when only armed intervention by the rest of the world brought the Hitler era to an end.

In a front-page commentary, Die Welt argued that 'the increase of barbaric excesses in the Balkans make a political solution for ex-Yugoslavia almost impossible'. The paper added, however, that the world still did not seem ready to intervene. 'The world community - which in a few months' time will celebrate the 50th anniversary in Normandy of the liberation of Europe from Nazism - is not prepared to act.'

In an apparent reference to Chamberlain and Munich, Die Welt suggested that Sarajevo was a test case, which would show 'whether the democracies have learnt from the experiences of the pre-war period'.

The Suddeutsche Zeitung, too, complained that it was unlikely European policy would change. 'Again and again, vile acts have not been considered enough to move the West to military intervention.' Tilman Zulch, chairman of the Society for Threatened Peoples, based in Gottingen, argued: 'Europe has learnt nothing from the Holocaust.'

The German government, once the most outspoken in Europe on the subject of atrocities in Bosnia, has become somewhat quieter in recent months - not least because of the embarrassment that Germany itself, because of its constitutional wrangles, cannot send troops into battle abroad, and is therefore not directly at risk. In the words of the Suddeutsche Zeitung yesterday, Germany can only 'make loud noises very quietly'.

At the weekend, Chancellor Helmut Kohl said that targeted strikes 'can no longer be excluded'. Germany's balancing act on Bosnia has, however, proved uncomfortable. Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, said he 'understood' the calls for military intervention. He noted, however, that for 'constitutional and historical reasons', Germany would not be involved, and that Germany was therefore 'not the best adviser'.

Translated, that means Germany no longer wishes to be the butt of criticism from Britain and other countries. Britain accuses Germany, in effect, of pious hypocrisy, because it calls for action from a position of safety as a proclaimed non-combatant. It is these criticisms that Mr Lamers wishes to counter.