Hungary seeks Nato protection from its foes

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THE WORLD would not stand idly by if Hungary were dragged into the Yugoslav conflict, Manfred Worner, Nato's Secretary-General, said yesterday. But the alliance was unable to offer the binding security guarantees that Hungary had apparently sought.

The Hungarian Foreign Minister, Geza Jeszenszky, denied that his country had been refused security guarantees and said that he had not requested them. But clearly the issue was in the background to his visit to Nato in Brussels yesterday. Budapest had also suggested that it might need anti-aircraft missiles to defend itself.

The Hungarians are concerned that by allowing Western surveillance planes to use their airspace while monitoring the no-fly zone in Bosnia, they are raising the ire of Serbia, which is home to a substantial ethnic Hungarian minority.

'It would be very foolish of any party in the former Yugoslavia to take aggressive action against any of its neighbours,' said Mr Worner. 'It is inconceivable that the international community would remain passive if a country suffered from aggressive action because of its support for UN- mandated operations.' Mr Jeszenszky said he was 'very grateful' for these words.

Nato has said that it will not extend its membership or security guarantees further east, though it has formed the North Atlantic Co-ordination Council for those east of the old Iron Curtain. There is concern that Nato could be dragged into conflicts for which it is not prepared if it extends its aegis further east. None of the Western allies wants to antagonise Russia.

The issue is likely to continue for some time. It is not just Hungary that is knocking on Nato's door. Last December, Albania tried to apply for membership and last week the Lithuanian Foreign Minister held talks with Nato. The situation in the Baltic, with the Russians dragging their feet over troop withdrawals, is of concern to Nato. But there is little Nato can do without provoking Russia.

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