Leading Article: A plea for more peace-keepers

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YESTERDAY's plea for more peace-keeping troops to be rushed to Bosnia deserves an urgent and positive response. The request for an additional 10,650 troops to boost the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) came from General Jean Cot, the commander of UN troops in former Yugoslavia. It was supported by the Secretary General's envoy, Yasushi Akashi.

The US, Britain and France were mentioned as the countries best placed to make rapid and effective contributions. Lt-Gen Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, who had himself earlier pleaded for reinforcements, meanwhile warned that his troops were operating on 'a wing and a prayer'.

The situation in Bosnia has been transformed in the past two weeks, first by the ceasefire in and around Sarajevo; second by a formal decision by the Bosnian Croats and Muslims to stop fighting and form a federation; third by the more forceful intervention of the Russians; and fourth by the new toughness of Nato and the UN.

At last there is a real possibility of an overall peace settlement. It would be a tragic error if this opportunity were to be missed for lack of the few thousand ground troops needed to monitor the peace. So far the British response has suggested little awareness of the urgency of the request. The attitude of the Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, has been 'After you, Claude'. Britain, he repeated yesterday, is already the second largest contributor to the 14,000 troops in Bosnia (after the French). The burden should be spread properly and widely among the 'relevant' countries. The Prime Minister seemed marginally more positive: Britain would respond to a request proportionately and as part of a wider effort.

The Americans appear to be insisting that there should be an overall settlement in Bosnia, involving Bosnian Serbs as well as Croats and Muslims, before they send ground troops to monitor the peace. That is a pity. They have gained much credit for brokering the deal between the Croats and Muslims. It would be logical as well as statesmanlike if they were to secure that agreement by dispatching troops to police it.

Their presence would - or should - have the double effect of putting pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to cease hostilities while restraining the Croats and Muslims from attacking them, a potentially serious extension of the war.

Since the start of the conflict in former Yugoslavia, first in Slovenia and Croatia and then in Bosnia, the West has been desperately anxious not to be sucked into the fighting. At the same time, Nato member states have emphasised their readiness to escort humanitarian aid convoys and help to keep any peace that could be negotiated. Two of the three warring factions in Bosnia have now stopped fighting each other and the third, the Serbs, look ready for peace. It is no moment to be comparing the relative strengths of national contributions. Britain should send as many troops as can be spared forthwith.