Bosnia Appeal: Dark pools of human misery: Marcus Tanner reports from a bleak Belgrade

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AS SERB forces slammed shells into two United Nations 'safe havens' in eastern Bosnia yesterday, killing at least four people, it looks like a new military offensive may add to the misery facing Bosnia's landlocked Muslims in the winter ahead.

The latest killings in Gorazde, which the UN proclaimed a protected zone, are a reminder of the indifference of Bosnian ethnic warlords towards civilians and of the limited ability of the UN to ease their suffering. This month only two aid convoys crossed Serb lines to relieve the needs of Gorazde's 60,000 Muslims - the UN say the town needs at least two a week.

With the Serbs still dictating what supplies may or may not be taken into the enclaves, a well-planned winter relief programme has, in effect, come to nought. As the aid agencies have not brought in enough food, supplies of clothes, candles, building materials and school equipment have remained unused in UN warehouses.

The result is that tens of thousands of half-fed people will shiver through Bosnia's winter in freezing ruins. Their children will walk barefoot through the snow. A generation will grow up wild - the children in Gorazde and Srebrenica have not been to school for 18 months. They have no books or pens.

In Srebrenica, which the Serbs have sealed off to foreign journalists, health workers report a frightening surge in psychiatric cases. 'We are seeing a dramatic deterioration in the mental health of the population who are realising they have no future all,' was the bleak assessment of a UN source in Belgrade. This understandable despair may lie behind the sudden recent rise in the numbers of suspected infanticides, with many babies reported to be dying in the enclaves in mysterious circumstances.

Outside the enclaves - these dark pools of human misery - the picture is almost as bleak. The once relatively prosperous city of Tuzla in north-east Bosnia has become a disaster zone. In November the population of more than one million received only 14 per cent of their estimated needs from the UN, after fighting in central Bosnia closed the aid route from Metkovic in Croatia. Water and electricity are intermittent. Fights break out regularly between locals and refugees from ethnically cleansed regions of eastern Bosnia over the diminishing relief supplies.

In central Bosnia, a widely predicted spring offensive by Muslims against Croat enclaves is expected to lead to Bosnian Croat forces preventing as much aid as they can from reaching the region's 1.25 million inhabitants.

Only in Sarajevo is the combination of the daily airlift and frequent road deliveries feeding the estimated 300,000 population with a degree of success. And even there the food rations have been cut and stocks are low. The UN spokesperson in Belgrade, Lyndall Sachs, believes the UN will keep most Bosnians alive this winter. But she warns that a terrible loss of life may lie ahead. 'We are hoping to scrape through,' she says. 'But we are going to see a lot of vulnerable people falling by the wayside, starting with the elderly, the infirm and young children who are vulnerable to disease. A lot of them will not survive the winter.'

It was with a view to helping some of those vulnerable people that the Independent Bosnia Appeal was launched last week. For every donation to one or more of 15 charitable organisations working in the region, the Independent will add 10 per cent, up to pounds 30,000. If you would like to support one or more of the charities, please send a separate cheque for each donation, made payable to the organisation - with the wording as indicated below - and send to: Bosnia Appeal, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

1 War Child Now; 2 Victims of War Appeal (former Yugoslavia) - this for the Red Cross; 3 Care; 4 Cafod (Bosnia); 5 Christian Aid (Bosnia); 6 Edinburgh Direct Aid; 7 Feed the Children; 8 Help the Aged Former Yugoslavia Appeal; 9 Islamic Relief Bosnia Fund; 10 Marie Stopes International (Bosnia); 11 Oxfam; 12 The Refugee Council; 13 Save the Children Fund; 14 Scottish European Aid; 15 UNA Trust Bosnia.

Tomorrow: more information on the work the charities are carrying out

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