Paris calls for tougher US line on Bosnia

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FRANCE, anxious for support to end the civil war in former Yugoslavia, is seeking a reiteration of a United States commitment to send troops to police a realistic peace accord, officials said yesterday.

After a week in which various French statements have been interpreted as heralding a drive by France at next week's Nato summit to push Washington into a greater military engagement, officials said the real French aim appeared to be less ambitious.

They said the tenor of remarks by Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister, and Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister, had prompted a flurry of cables between Paris and Washington.

Britain, like France, has troops in Bosnia and has been seeking to co-ordinate its position with the French, according to some sources. However, differences of nuance appeared to have been ironed out.

The flurry of speculation began on Monday when Mr Leotard said France would 'ask the US to intervene and help us so that this war does not extend to the south of Europe and throughout the Balkans'. Mr Juppe also poured cold water on the notion that France, with 6,500 men in the United Nations forces in ex- Yugoslavia, the biggest contingent of any country, could pull out now.

Mr Leotard said that a withdrawal would merely add another failure to the international community's inability so far to stop the bloodshed. Diplomatic sources said France hoped the US would repeat that it was willing to provide half the troops needed to enforce a real cease- fire, up to 25,000 men. 'The French would like to hear that again,' one said. This implies a real desire on the part of the various political leaders in ex-Yugoslavia to halt the fighting.

France also hoped the Americans would be willing to take part in any eventual air strikes in Bosnia, a delicate move because of the implications for UN ground forces who would be obvious targets for reprisals, they said.

The United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, yesterday said that next week's Nato summit would address the ethnic strife in Bosnia and that the alliance would take a 'co-ordinated position' on it.

At the moment, there is provision for air strikes to retaliate if UN troops are hit and part of the problem here is whether General Jean Cot, the French general commanding UN forces in ex- Yugoslavia, should be given authority to call in air strikes rather than waiting for approval from the UN in New York.