BONN — Several Western European nations announced Monday that they are ready to send warships to Yugoslavia, if needed, to establish a "humanitarian corridor" to evacuate refugees from the war-torn country.
"It is not a question of military intervention but of humanitarian measures with the possibility that those participating would defend themselves," said German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, chairman of the nine-nation Western European Union.
He said the frigates would be sent to provide safe passage for International Red Cross vessels, but only if the relief agency requests such help. Evacuation of women, children, the elderly and the infirm would be a purely civilian undertaking, Genscher added.
Foreign ministers from the alliance issued a communique at the end of their one-day meeting here expressing "growing concern over the situation in Yugoslavia."
Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary, said British navy vessels are already in the region and "prepared to go in and help" secure an evacuation operation if asked. "We cannot impose help on the Red Cross, and it's up to them to ask for it," he said.
Earlier Monday, an unarmed Italian hospital ship safely docked at the historic Croatian port of Dubrovnik to pick up wounded civilians; the 100-bed French navy hospital ship La Rance also was reported en route. In Vukovar, the commander of Croatian fighters huddling in the ruins of the city ordered his men to end their three-month fight against besieging federal troops Monday, the Tanjug news agency said.
The Associated Press reported that weary residents in Vukovar crawled out of shelters by the hundreds, some for the first time in months. But a Croatian Defense Ministry source said the Croats had not surrendered and were still in contact with their headquarters.
There was no immediate comment from federal army commanders about the reported surrender of Vukovar, which had become an important psychological prize for both sides.
In Belgrade, meanwhile, Serbia's president endorsed the dispatch of U.N. peacekeepers to Yugoslavia. And fighting continued in other parts of Croatia as the warring sides ignored the 13th cease-fire agreement of the nearly five-month-old war.
In Bonn, the Western European Union--which includes all European Community members except Greece, Denmark and Ireland--also endorsed plans by France, Britain and Belgium to ask the U.N. Security Council for peacekeeping forces for Yugoslavia. Its communique said the "threatened civilian populations must be helped as quickly as possible," especially children.
Hurd noted a "general view" among the ministers that prospects for peacekeeping in Yugoslavia are "somewhat improved" because both Serbians and Croatians now appear to accept the idea. But Hurd and Genscher indicated that their countries would not offer peacekeeping forces.