Jupp plans route out of Balkan quagmire

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Jupp, who is expected to be the country's next prime minister, yesterday served notice that France would not keep its 4,800 troops in Bosnia without political progress towards a settlement.

He was speaking after a meeting in Paris with Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary. The two, believed to see eye-to-eye over the former Yugoslavia, spent part of the time in talks without their officials. Mr Hurd dropped plans to attend a ministerial meeting in Portugal to speak to Mr Jupp as soon as possible after the conservative victory in the French presidential election.

It is clear the new government under President Jacques Chirac intends to use its troops as a bargaining lever to try to resolve the chaotic international handling of the peace-keeping effort. Britain is expected to back the initiative.

Mr Jupp and Mr Chirac seem determined to push for a settlement or to pull out their soldiers. The Foreign Minister has criticised the United States and Russia for what he considers their irresponsible backing of the Muslims or the Serbs.

Mr Jupp fears the United Nations force (Unprofor) could simply freeze front lines, prolong the war and provide excuses to delay talks. "France cannot accept that the presence of Unprofor be considered increasingly as an obstacle to a peace settlement," he said yesterday. In the Commons last week Mr Hurd warned for the first time of "the danger of a wider Balkan war in which the US and Russia would back different sides".

The perception in London and Paris of that risk has united them on the need to stay in former Yugoslavia. But France has been outraged by the casualty rate among its peace-keepers, while Britain has said it would withdraw its forces if, under Mr Hurd's formula, "the risks to our troops might outweigh the good which they could do".

Both countries want to press for one last effort to get President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia to recognise Bosnia and Croatia in return for easing UN sanctions. Mr Hurd and Mr Jupp yesterday discussed a draft proposal agreed by the five-nation Contact Group in Frankfurt last Friday. Mr Jupp referred to this yesterday when speaking of "a glimmer of hope". But any initiative must win the backing of the Group's other members - the US, Russia and Germany - and they pursue different Balkan interests.

Mr Hurd goes to Washington tomorrow to argue the Anglo-French case with the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and the National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake.

French pressure is also behind a UN move to order a fundamental review of the peace-keeping operation. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary- General, is canvassing military commanders and political officials on the spot before reporting to the Security Council. The review was spurred by Croatia's recent successful offensive against the Serb-held enclave of western Slavonia and by renewed artillery attacks on Sarajevo. Some UN officials believe their mandate has become impossible and that the UN's Balkan mission should end.

"The report makes a broad spectrum of recommendations, some of which are pretty dramatic," said a UN official in Zagreb. "Somebody here described it as the most important document to come out of the former Yugoslavia since the Vance-Owen plan." Sources familiar with the report in its current form say it includes options to scale back the UN presence in three enclaves in eastern Bosnia and in weapon-collection sites around Sarajevo.

These are the areas in which peace-keepers are surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces and considered most vulnerable to being attacked or taken hostage. "I think you're going to see a very rapid evolution of UN policy once the report reaches New York," said the UN official in Zagreb. But other UN officials warned that events on the ground could overtake the UN review process.

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