UK pull-out on agenda as Hurd flies to Bosnia: Foreign Secretary to meet peace-keeping troops before decision is made on withdrawal of British contingent

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The Independent Online
THE possible withdrawal of British United Nations peace-keepers from Bosnia will be discussed during a previously unannounced trip by the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, to Washington this month for talks with the United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, British officials said yesterday.

A decision on the withdrawal of the 2,500 British soldiers has yet to be taken and would be subject to multilateral discussions with France, Canada and others involved in the peace-keeping effort, said Mr Hurd. He was speaking in Ankara at the end of a visit to Turkey with his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel. Their trip was unexpectedly dominated by discussions about Bosnia.

Mr Hurd said a further statement was likely during his visit to the British UN troops in Bosnia which begins today.

'I do want to see for myself. I want to get a personal feel before reaching a decision,' Mr Hurd said.

Mr Hurd's meeting with the British troops in central Bosnia will be the first visit he has made to the war zone in winter conditions. The impressive improvements to the mountain route, known as Triangle, will be apparent, especially the last 10kms of the road, which has been widened to take two-way traffic by blasting away the mountainside. If the UN withdraws, the Royal Engineers will have bequeathed an excellent supply route to the Bosnian Croat HVO militia.

Mr Hurd will also see that the British force here is succeeding in delivering aid, but with occasional hiccups - like the recent three-day interruption to supplies when angry locals closed the route just south of Vitez, and attempted to push burning logs into one of the Warrior fighting vehicles.

The Serb-Croat accord in Geneva on Wednesday could indirectly affect the war here. Although it was welcomed because it makes a new war between Serbia and Croatia less likely, it could be bad news for the Muslims in central Bosnia. The Bosnian Serbs have co-operated with the Croats against the Muslims on occasions, but also with the Muslims against the Croats. Since September they have inclined more towards the Croats and if a clear Serb-Croat alliance emerges, the mainly Muslim Bosnian army (BiH) is unlikely to prevail. The BiH is getting stronger, so if the Serbs and Croats intend to join forces, they should do so sooner rather than later.

That would be good news for the Croats in Vitez. Although the front lines have changed little in the last few months, the BiH has succeeded in pushing into the Vitez pocket, cutting the road east of the British camp.

Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, yesterday called for a complete review of Bosnian policy. He said he was 'offering in the coming hours and days to make new contact with our American, Russian and European partners to proceed with this'. He added: 'That means thinking about the need to draw the conclusions from the parties' obstinate determination to gain through war what we want them to achieve by peace.'

Mr Juppe said that 'we can no longer watch on the one hand the different parties negotiate in Geneva, and on the ground witness an escalation of the conflict'.

The agonisingly slow death of European policy has been increasingly evident at a series of meetings over the last few months. Officials in Brussels say that the point is approaching where the West must decide to escalate its involvement or withdraw. 'We must tirer or se retirer, (shoot or get out),' said an official in Brussels.

The commander of the United Nations forces in Bosnia, General Francis Briquemont, said in a statement yesterday: 'More than ever, it must be very clearly stated that it becomes impossible for us to deliver humanitarian aid to the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina while the warring parties continue to fight.'

Gen Briquemont, who will be returning to Belgium next week, has been an outspoken critic of Western policy.

Leading article, page 15

Andrew Marr, page 17

(Photograph omitted)

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