Leading Article: Warnings to be heeded in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
THE PATIENCE of the French and British, the two biggest contributors of troops to the UN's humanitarian mission in Bosnia, is beginning to wear thin. In the past few days, ministers in Paris and London have warned that at least some soldiers may be pulled out if the warring parties show no signs of wanting peace. In both European capitals there is also growing irritation with the refusal of the US to contribute any ground troops to the UN operation there until peace terms have been agreed.

The bluntest warning came yesterday from the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe. He said that if no progress had been made by mid-June, when a make-or-break meeting would be held in Geneva, the consequences would have to be drawn. On Wednesday Douglas Hogg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, was even more forthright. While emphasising that the Bosnian Serbs must give up some of the 70 per cent or so of Bosnian territory they now hold, he advised the Muslim-led government that time was running out: it should realise it had been defeated, and that some lost land would not be


The Muslims want 58 per cent for themselves and the Croats. Foreign ministers from the European Union, the US and Russia last week favoured a split giving the proposed Muslim-Croat federation 51 per cent. The Serbs are reluctant to disgorge what they have gained, the Muslims to accept so little. They see themselves as the aggrieved party: the legitimate government of all Bosnia, now being pressed to accept that those who practised the bombardment and ethnic cleansing of civilians should be rewarded.

It seemed just possible yesterday that the Muslims might agree, if not to the proposed four-month truce, then to one of two months. But the territorial offer would be a bitter pill to swallow. Rejection is their right, and it is hard not to sympathise with their disgust at what is being proposed. Yet the alternative - continuing the fighting in the hope of gaining more US support - offers yet more agony with no certainty of reward.

What seems virtually certain is that France and Britain will not be prepared to keep their troops in Bosnia for another winter. A general pull-out would lead to the arms embargo being lifted. That could produce a significant escalation in the war, conceivably with other Muslim governments flying in volunteers: a prospect that few, including any sensible Muslim-led government, could or should welcome. This week's French and British warnings are brutal, but should at least concentrate minds.