Hungary to co-operate with US plan

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HUNGARY yesterday reluctantly agreed 'in principle' to allow its air space to be used for the controversial US plan to air-drop supplies into Bosnia, but made clear they had first sought reassurances that the Americans would minimise the risk of an escalation of the war.

The Hungarians expressed no enthusiasm about the US request to co-operate with the plan, which the Serbs have warned could rapidly exacerbate the conflict. Hungary already faces a dilemma over how far it can be seen to co-operate with Western action perceived as hostile to the Serbs, given the risk of further reprisals against the 400,000 ethnic Hungarians in the Serbian province of Vojvodina and Serb-occupied Croatia. At the same time, as an applicant to Nato, Budapest does not wish to obstruct any requests from the alliance. It also relies on the US for assistance in the modernisation of its aircraft and bases.

The Hungarian statement made clear the US planes would be unarmed and would not be escorted by fighter aircraft, while claiming the operation would be even-handed: 'Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina will all get their share from the aid shipments.' It emphasised Hungary had given its consent 'in principle' only, indicating the Americans could, in practice, choose another route.

Italy said yesterday the UN was considering using the Falconara-Ancona base. But Hungary would be the most convenient route to deliver supplies from German bases to the Muslim enclaves in the far east of Bosnia. Although Germany says its planes are not equipped to parachute-drop supplies from a high level, its bases are to be used for loading.

Hungary already allows Nato surveillance planes to use its air space to monitor compliance with the no-fly zone imposed by the UN over Bosnia to stop Serbian flights. But this week, Hungary told the US it would find further sanctions against Serbia unacceptable.

In response to a letter from the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, asking for Budapest's co-operation on further sanctions, Hungary replied that it had fully complied with existing sanctions, 'which, by the way, have caused substantial damage to a number of Hungarian companies. At the same time, sanctions such as halting passenger traffic and telecommunications links or transit traffic would be unacceptable to Hungary.'

Mr Christopher will give details of the air-drop plan to US allies when he makes his first visit to Nato today. Turkey, which has pushed for more drastic action to help its Muslim brethren in Bosnia, said yesterday it had offered to provide transport planes, war planes and logistical help.

On the ground, a UN convoy yesterday finally reached the town of Gorazde, in snow-bound eastern Bosnia, yesterday after Serbian rebels held up its progress for two days.

But another stand-off developed on the border between western Serbia and Bosnia over a supply convoy of food and other deliveries to French UN troops in Sarajevo. UN officials said Bosnian Serbs on the Zvornik bridge over the Drina river were demanding to search the 60-vehicle convoy and had blocked its passage since Tuesday.

(Photograph omitted)