Prime Minister Alain Juppe said Sunday night that France would press for withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping forces from Bosnia unless NATO and the United Nations agree in the next few days to send them reinforcements.
He also repeated a call by President Jacques Chirac on Saturday for the United Nations to revise its mandate and intensify its peacemaking efforts if France is to keep its 3,800 soldiers in Bosnia, which both men say is what they really want.
As Bosnian Serb forces took more peacekeepers hostage Sunday, including 33 British troops, Juppe said that both the mission of the U.N. force and its deployment at scattered and poorly defensible sites around the country urgently need to be changed.
Meanwhile, the British government issued a statement saying it “utterly condemned” the seizure of its soldiers and said it will be increasing its deployment of troops to Bosnia as soon as possible.
“The Ministry of Defense will be sending two artillery batteries and an armored engineer squadron to Bosnia as soon as possible,” the government said in a statement after an emergency Cabinet meeting.
In Washington, Clinton administration officials said the United States is prepared to support a French plan to redeploy U.N. troops into more secure positions and emphasized the need to bolster the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
In an interview on national television, Juppe said, “We have to end the taking of hostages, restart the diplomatic process, and if all that fails, then agree to withdraw.”
“I can’t tell you whether that will be today or the day after,” he said. “We cannot live with the situation as it is.”
He spoke after a weekend of intensive telephone contacts on the Bosnian crisis between Chirac and President Clinton, President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, Prime Minister John Major of Britain, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and other leaders.
Most of the European allies who have troops in Bosnia appear to support France’s calls for pulling back from exposed positions. Diplomats said Canada also is deeply concerned about the possible additional dangers its troops could face as a result of NATO threats to repel attacks with air strikes.
Juppe said that at meetings to be held early this week in the Netherlands, France would ask its allies to agree to send a NATO air-mobile reaction force to Bosnia equipped with helicopters and gunships that peacekeepers could call on for protection.