British legislators defend critic of U.S. on Bosnia

August 19, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau

LONDON -- The British Foreign Office distanced the #i government yesterday from a cantankerous row between the United States and a British general serving with the United Nations over air strikes in Bosnia.

But Parliament rallied to the general's side.

Madeleine Albright, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, furiously criticized Brig. Gen. Vere Hayes, the U.N. chief of staff in Bosnia, Tuesday for reportedly denigrating President Clinton's policy of threatening air strikes against Serbian forces in the former Yugoslavian republic while the United States has no ground forces in the war zone.

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that in his current job, General Hayes represented the United Nations.

"He's not speaking for the British government," the spokesman said. "There is no change in British policy. It's a matter between the United States and the U.N."

But members of Parliament from both the Conservative and Labor parties rallied to the general's defense.

"It is all very well for the Americans to talk of air strikes, but it's a very different perspective for those who are on the ground delivering humanitarian aid," said Archie Hamilton, a Conservative member of Parliament and former armed forces minister.

Mr. Hamilton said he had "a lot of sympathy" for General Hayes. He said British troops protecting aid convoys would be "extremely vulnerable" if air strikes on Serbian positions went ahead.

A member of Parliament from the Labor opposition said the U.S. attack on General Hayes was "appalling."

Robert Wareing, who represents a Liverpool constituency, said parliamentary members from both sides would support the general. "This clumsy president must understand that we will defend [General] Hayes and his judgment, and we will do so openly," he said.

He called U.S. policy "idiotic" and said the general should get a medal.

General Hayes was quoted in a New York Times story Monday as saying, "What does President Clinton think he is up to? Air power won't defeat the Serbs."

The general has a reputation for being outspoken. He is said to wave the Bible during discussions in Bosnia, even with Muslims.

He was backed in his criticism by Lt. Gen. Francis Briquemont, the Belgian commander of the U.N. forces in Bosnia and General Hayes' boss, according to the Times.

The Belgian government, however, did not seem disturbed by General Briquemont's position.

"Belgium completely supports [General] Briquemont, but we have no comment on his recent declarations. This is an affair for the United Nations," a Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news briefing.

Ms. Albright, after an apparently heated meeting at the United Nations, called the criticism of U.S. policy "absolutely unconscionable."

"British policy is perfectly clear," the Foreign Office said. "We support the agreements at the North Atlantic Council meeting. We absolutely support air strikes in certain circumstances."

The threat of air strikes has been "helpful" in getting Serbian withdrawals from around Sarajevo and in moving forward

negotiations in Geneva, the Foreign Office said.

A U.N. spokesman yesterday said the United Nations was now fully ready to use air power in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The United Nations had said last week that all arrangements for air strikes were completed but that tests had to be conducted.

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