'No easy way out of the conflict': Lord Owen says that use of military force is not the solution to a war with no clear distinction between aggressor and victim

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The Independent Online
LORD Owen yesterday criticised people who have 'exercised their consciences' over Bosnia in recent days, and said there were no simple solutions to a war in which the roles of aggressor and victim were often confused.

Speaking after the break-up of almost two weeks of negotiations, Lord Owen also rejected air strikes without the approval of the United Nations Security Council and the Secretary-General. In private, the international mediators are known to feel that aerial attacks on Serbian positions would be futile.

'A lot of people have exercised their consciences over the last ten days,' said Lord Owen, visibly relishing the chance to hit back at critics of his actions as EC mediator in the talks. 'We as negotiators can only work with the tools we are given . . . anyone who thinks this issue is going to be solved in any simple way, whether it be air strikes or a sudden new political initiative . . . is deluding themselves.'

The main Western nations had time and again examined the possibility of military intervention and had always rejected it, Lord Owen told a press conference in Geneva.

'There are consequences of that rejection - I do not criticise them for that rejection - but it limits your influence and power to dictate events,' he said.

Lord Owen said military action could only be helpful if it reinforced the diplomacy of the UN. 'I cannot see any case whatever, having asked the UN to come in . . . for Nato to be even considering acting outside the framework of the United Nations,' he said. 'I am totally and absolutely opposed to trying to work outside the United Nations, the Security Council and the Secretary-General.'

He rejected the claim that he and his co-chairman, Thorvald Stoltenberg, were pushing the Muslims to accept 'murder or suicide'.

'I don't think it's as simple as that. I don't think this war has ever been as simple as aggressor and victim,' he said. The military situation around Sarajevo constituted the greatest obstacle to negotiations, but he was determined to point out that even in that besieged city there existed few moral certainties.

'I think one of the things which would repay a study with advantage for all of you is to look at Sarajevo, not just the city, the urban built-up areas, but also the other areas, the whole of the valley of Sarajevo if you like, and try to discover its history of settlements . . . it is not a simple issue.'

Lord Owen expected all sides to return to talks in Geneva next week, but said their consent was subject to unpredictable events on the battlefield.

'There are elements of aggression, elements of civil war and elements of provocation on all sides,' he said. The warring parties had promised to cease military actions and withdrew from contested areas to assist the talks, 'but we all know the difference between fine words and real intentions.'

His words were echoed by Mr Stoltenberg, a former foreign minister of Norway, who represents the UN at the talks.

'Now and then I get the impression that I believe that quite a few people believe there is one simple way out of this war - there is no simple low-risk way out of this war,' Mr Stoltenberg said.

(Photograph omitted)