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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Troops to Stay in Bosnia, for Now

SARAJEVO -- Britain said Friday it would not pull its troops out of Bosnia unilaterally but again raised the prospect they may have to go eventually if fighting continued.


The role of the West in efforts to stop the former Yugoslav republic's 21-month civil war was further challenged when the commander of U.N. troops in Bosnia called for an end to peace talks with leaders of the warring factions.


In Sarajevo, the resumption of the humanitarian aid airlift, shut down twice this week after transport aircraft were hit by gunfire, was delayed by snow on the runway at the city airport.


Western nations contributing to the U.N. Protection Force say fighting has made their task of escorting aid convoys almost impossible and are debating whether it is worth keeping 12,000 U.N. soldiers in Bosnia after the winter.


Diplomatic sources said U.N. relief officials were gloomy about prospects for aid efforts, saying convoys had been attacked by all three warring parties.


The U.N. was concerned that combatants' respect for the U.N. humanitarian aid operation had broken down.


British Defense Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said British troops would not be pulled out during the winter and there would be no unilateral withdrawal.


"What we're talking about is whether the United Nations as a whole should continue to be in Bosnia -- whether the time might come at some stage when it's no longer able to carry out its mandate," Rifkind told the BBC.


Rifkind was speaking as British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd began a visit to the 2,300 British troops involved in the Bosnia aid effort.


He was expected to discuss with commanders on the ground whether to pull out the British contingent in the coming months.


Meanwhile, in an interview that called into question the entire peace process, the outgoing U.N. commander in Bosnia, General Francis Briquemont, said the international community should not talk to leaders of the factions because they could not be trusted.


"Our politicians must apply pressure so that we do not allow ourselves to be humiliated," he told the French daily Le Figaro on Friday.


Bosnian peace talks broke up without an overall agreement in Geneva on Wednesday and will resume on Feb. 10.


In the wake of the failed talks, Lord Owen, the European Union negotiator in former Yugoslavia, said Thursday he intended to stay on in his role despite a resolution by the European Parliament urging the EU to replace him.


Owen told reporters it was an open secret that he wanted to quit the burdensome task but he had agreed to help EU foreign ministers through what he said was the current crisis.The EU's assembly, voting Thursday, urged in a resolution submitted by conservative and liberal parties "nomination of a new EU negotiator with a proper mandate and a new strategy for exercising it."


Briquemont and outgoing commander of all U.N. forces in former Yugoslavia, French General Jean Cot, met Bosnian Serb military chief General Ratko Mladic after two aid aircraft were hit by gunfire at Sarajevo airport from Serb-held territory.


The U.N. military spokesman in Sarajevo, Colonel Bill Aikman, said Mladic had said some of his troops might have been responsible for the shooting but that the Serb high command had never ordered such attacks.