Hurd feels his way to air strikes

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The Independent Online
'SOMETIMES, sadly, it takes a tragic and highly visible single act like this to create a political turning point.' With those words, a British official yesterday explained how Douglas Hurd had come to advocate the use of air power in Bosnia after resisting it for two years.

The Foreign Secretary was at Chevening, his official country residence, when news of the shelling of Sarajevo's central market-place broke on Saturday. The attack was at lunchtime; by 3pm, Mr Hurd had formulated a statement, which his aides say did not go via No 10 for approval. It read: 'This brutal shelling of civilians in Sarajevo is the latest and worst single example of the miseries of this war. Those who fired that shell carry a fearful responsibility for murder. The UN commanders on the spot will now report to us on the recent shelling in Sarajevo. The only lasting answer is a negotiated peace. This tragedy shows its urgency.'

Mr Hurd's aides say the statement shows Mr Hurd knew the time to consider air strikes had come. The key words, they say, were, '. . . carry a fearful responsibility for murder'.

Days before, Mr Hurd had indicated that it was 'nonsense' to suggest bombing was the answer. He conceded that if the Serbs resumed the shelling of Sarajevo on a massive scale, it might have to be considered, but said it would probably intensify the fighting. Above all, he insisted there was a pattern of Muslim provocation.

Saturday's attack was different; a consensus quickly emerged that it was the work of Serbs.

There followed a weekend of 'intense diplomatic activity' at Chevening. Mr Hurd spoke twice on the telephone to his US counterpart, Warren Christopher; at least once to his German, Belgian, Spanish and Canadian opposite numbers; and twice to Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister of France - which, like Britain, must always bear in mind the consequences for its more than 2,000 troops on the ground in Bosnia.

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Juppe called at a press conference for a Nato 'ultimatum' over the siege of Sarajevo. 'The massacre perpetrated yesterday is unbearable and constitutes a turning point in the Bosnian drama,' he added.

A British official yesterday insisted that 'the difference of approach between Paris and London was never nearly so great as you might think, it is merely that the French thinking surfaced earlier'.

When Mr Hurd arrived in Brussels on Sunday evening, he had dinner with the British ambassador prior to the next day's European Foreign Affairs Council. He spoke to Mr Christopher again at midnight. The next morning, on his way to the council, he told reporters: 'The case for air action is very strong, provided we can find a means of doing it which produces more good than harm.' Questioned as to why the case had not been strong over the past two years, an aide to Mr Hurd said: 'I think the effect of these television pictures round the world is greater than you give them credit for.'