Bosnian villagers trap British soldiers

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Hundreds of angry Muslims took British troops hostage yesterday as they escorted a UN aid convoy to the besieged east Bosnian settlement of Konjevic Polje.

'A living wall of hundreds of villagers were climbing all over the vehicles,' Major Alan Abraham of the 9th/12th Lancers, was quoted as saying. The villagers were reported to have set light to bales of hay around the two armoured vehicles, a Spartan troop carrier and a Sultan command vehicle, as well as a recovery vehicle, to prevent their escape.

Major Abraham and his unit had escorted a team of doctors and nurses into Konjevic Polje to evacuate 75 wounded, most of them men, but Bosnian Serbs had said the mission could bring out only women and children and that the wounded men must be treated at Serb-run hospitals. The crowd insisted that men should also be taken.

Jan Erik Linstad, of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said he and a team of doctors and nurses withdrew from Konjevic Polje at 5pm as it came under fire from Serbian tanks on surrounding mountains.

Konjevic Polje has been besieged by Serbs since civil war erupted in Bosnia 11 months ago. General Philippe Morillon, commander of UN troops in the former Yugoslav republic, visited the settlement last weekend and said the situation was calm. But Mr Linstad said conditions had since changed dramatically.

As the convoy entered the upper part of the settlement, where there were 3,000 to 5,000 people, villagers were fleeing with bedding, clothes and whatever they could carry, he said. The lower part of the village was deserted and a number of dead bodies people and as well as animal carcasses were on the side of the road.

An unnamed British soldier, reported to have suffered serious head and chest injuries from an anti-personnel mine near Gornji Vakuf in Bosnia, was flown home last night for urgent medical treatment.