Thatcher Keeps Heat On For Stronger Bosnia Steps


Margaret Thatcher is determined to keep up the pressure on world leaders to support the supplying of weapons to Bosnia's Muslims.

Since the collapse of the Muslim defense of Srebrenica, the former "Iron Lady" of British politics is also calling for the bombing of Bosnian Serb supply routes.

Following television appeals on April 13 and 14 for a more assertive response to aggression in Bosnia, Lady Thatcher traveled to Poland, where she underlined her charge that the West's supposedly even-handed policies in the former Yugoslavia were "not worthy of Europe, not worthy of the West, and not worthy of the United States."

She told a gathering in Warsaw over the weekend: "I never expected to see ethnic cleansing in our lives again."

British government ministers continued to disagree with Thatcher's standpoint, but her arguments appear to have had considerable impact in Britain and beyond.

On Saturday, opposition Labour Party leader John Smith for the first time called for bombing of Serbian targets. "The Serbs' barbarous behavior has to be brought to a halt," he said in a broadcast.

Official British resistance to arming the Bosnian Muslims and attacking Serb supply lines was under growing pressure from within the ruling Conservative Party. David Howell, Conservative chairman of the influential House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, broke ranks with Prime Minister John Major, declaring: "The policy of dealing with [Serbian president] Slobodan Milosevic is finished. A new policy is required."

Mr. Howell was supported by John Townend, an executive member of the Conservative Party's parliamentary backbench committee. He said: "At first I was opposed to troops going in to Bosnia, but now I think there will have to be limited airstrikes."

IT became apparent on Saturday that Reginald Bartholomew, President Clinton's special envoy on Bosnia, had clashed with British ministers over Bosnia policy. In London on April 14, Mr. Bartholomew told them that arming the Bosnian Muslims and air attacks on Serb positions were on the Clinton agenda, but, according to United States sources, he met with resistance.

The sources said the envoy had left London "frustrated" by the Major government's "playing down" of the military options.

Thatcher's supporters say she is convinced that by calling for stronger action in Bosnia, she is pushing on a swinging door.

Despite a rebuke from Malcolm Rifkind, Britain's defense secretary, who accused her of talking "emotional nonsense," she is encouraged by opinion polls.

An April 15 Gallup poll indicated that 61 percent of Britons want an international force to be sent to Bosnia to impose a peace settlement.

The same poll showed that 67 percent want British troops to be part of the force, and that 58 percent would be happy to see the troops remain in Bosnia for several years.

Another influential voice in favor of tougher action against the Serbs is that of Lord David Owen, the European Community mediator in the Bosnian crisis.

Lord Owen said yesterday that if the Bosnian Serbs refused to sign the peace plan he had drawn up with Cyrus Vance, his US co-mediator, he would personally favor bombing Serbian positions.

Publicly, the British Cabinet is united in the view that the next step should be a tightening of economic sanctions against Serbia.

At first, Major appears to have believed that he could ignore Thatcher's spirited remarks.

But individual ministers privately conceded that Thatcher had touched a chord in the British and world conscience. One admitted that he had been outraged, as she had, by the April 12 Serb artillery attack on Srebrenica in which 56 people, many of them children, died.

Lady Thatcher is said by friends to recall that Major initially opposed British participation in policing the "no-fly" zone in Bosnia, but later changed his mind under US pressure.

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