Hurd defends Britain's aid record in central Bosnia

Click to follow
DOUGLAS HURD has returned to Britain from central Bosnia with the impression that the aid operation supported by British troops and Overseas Development Administration drivers is 'working better than most people at home realise'.

But as the Foreign Secretary left Vitez for Kiseljak in a Warrior armoured vehicle on Saturday, it seemed here that he had been misinformed. That could affect the decision on whether to continue British military support for the aid operation, to be taken in a few weeks in concert with other nations involved.

Mr Hurd said: 'We have to match what is being achieved here with the general situation, in particular who's doing the fighting and the chances of peace.' A positive view of the situation could influence a decision in favour of staying.

Mr Hurd was adamant that there would be no unilateral British withdrawal, but he said Britain could not be involved indefinitely. If the decision were taken to continue the effort after the spring, a withdrawal before next winter would be inconceivable and Britain would effectively be committed for another year.

The British presence in Bosnia is not currently a major political issue, whereas it is in France, Spain and Canada.

Mr Hurd's understanding is that about half the aid is reaching the people who need it - the target population of 700,000 in central Bosnia. But last week, Larry Hollingworth, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees chief in central Bosnia, said in Zenica that only about a fifth was getting through. UN sources in Zenica have repeated that figure and troops on the ground are convinced that most of it is going to the combatants on the front lines, and not to civilians.

If Mr Hurd gained the wrong impression, it could be a result of the briefing he received in Split. Four months' worth of supplies are stacked at the huge UN depot at Metkovic, just inside Croatia, and another four are about to be delivered. For Split there may be enough aid, but not for central Bosnia.

Mr Hurd sensed 'a strong feeling here that if British troops were not here, the savagery of the war would be substantially worse'. But the question was 'whether it's indefinitely the role of the armed services of the crown to maintain a force of this kind in central Bosnia. It's not a good thing to get involved year after year with no prospect of a way out.'

LONDON - The Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, confirmed today that Britain may pull its troops out of Bosnia in the summer, PA reports.

He said the withdrawal of the 2,500 British troops serving with the UN Protection Force was being seriously considered by the government. But he stressed that no decision had yet been reached.

Mr Rifkind said British troops had helped saved tens of thousands of lives and any withdrawal would be taken only in conjuction with Britain's UN partners.