THE British government is undertaking an urgent review of its policies toward the former Yugoslavia amid fears that an international conference in London planned next week to address the crisis may be in jeopardy.
Prime Minister John Major is curtailing his vacation in Spain to chair an emergency Cabinet meeting tomorrow at which military policy in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Britain's attitude toward Bosnian refugees will be discussed.
Serious doubts about the conference emerged over the weekend following the collapse of talks in Brussels on Friday night. The talks were to have been a preparation for the London meeting, but Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic refused to travel to Brussels, sparking fears that he would boycott the gathering in the British capital scheduled for Aug. 26.
Mr. Major also decided he must interrupt his vacation to further discuss a decision made last week to adopt a more flexible policy on accepting refugees from the former Yugoslavia.
The decision followed heavy pressure from the United Nations, Britain's European Community partners, and humanitarian agencies. They were all critical of immigration rules which British officials had used to deport 36 Bosnians who had sought refuge in Britain. The deportees had been refused entry on the grounds that they had entered Britain after traveling through other EC countries. Most were returned to Germany and Belgium.
Over the weekend Home Office officials who administer immigration policy privately conceded that rules had been applied too rigidly.
Some 2,000 people from the former Yugoslavia are seeking asylum in Britain, the Home Office has said.
The policy switch on refugees came amid growing concern that the planned London conference, to be chaired by Mr. Major, who holds the rotating EC presidency, may be in serious trouble.
OFFICIALS said tomorrow's Cabinet meeting would review "a range of options" for getting help to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Senior defense sources in London said yesterday that would include the possible use of British troops and aircraft to protect relief aid to Bosnia.
Foreign Office minister Douglas Hogg returned over the weekend from a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina during which he met the leaders of the main ethnic communities. Officials said he was expected to advise the Cabinet against sending British ground forces into the region.
Nevertheless, Mr. Hogg said Saturday: "We are doing our best to impress on Milosevic that his policies must stop, and that they are going to fail in that we are not going to accept forcible land seizures and deportations," Hogg said. "Serbia will be treated as a pariah state for as long as it continues to implement these policies."
Leaders of the main ethnic groups from Yugoslavia have been invited to London, along with UN and EC representatives.
Lord Peter Carrington, the EC's mediator, was reported as saying that without Mr. Milosevic's attendance, the London meeting could make little progress.
Major's concern about the direction of British policy toward Bosnia and Bosnian refugees was heightened by the results of a public opinion poll published yesterday. The poll suggested that more than half of Britons were dissatisfied with the government's overall handling of the crisis. But the poll contained a mixed message for the prime minister. On military intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which Major says he opposes, 51 percent thought the situation did not justify putting British lives at risk. On
immigration rules, 60 percent opposed any change.
Only one person in three thought Britain should be prepared to send the Royal Air Force in cooperation with other Western countries to bomb Serbian artillery positions.