Britons' icy escape from death: As Bosnia convoys are suspended, aid driver tells how gunmen murdered his colleague

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The Independent Online
A WOUNDED survivor of the shooting of three British aid workers, in which one man was killed in cold blood by uniformed gunmen, described yesterday how he swam to safety across the icy River Bosna.

Simon King, 27, a former soldier, sat propped up in bed at the British military hospital in Vitez, where he is recovering from arm and leg wounds, as he told of the events which led to the killing of his colleague, Paul Goodall, and of his dramatic escape with his wounded companion, David Court, on Thursday night.

The three men were abducted at gunpoint after nightfall in the Muslim stronghold of Zenica and driven to the river, where Mr Goodall, 35, a father of four from Lancashire, was shot dead.

Yesterday Britain suspended its aid convoys in the former Yugoslavia until investigation of the shootings is complete. The Prime Minister, John Major, said he was 'shocked and distressed'. The men were drivers with the Overseas Development Administration, which administers government aid.

Mr King described how he and his colleagues left two of their three Land Rovers at the UN depot on the eastern edge of Zenica at about 5pm and went to their hotel to get a meal while local workers loaded the vehicles.

They returned to the depot and then left about 8pm to return to the hotel. They were almost there when a car carrying five gunmen pulled alongside. Mr King said he did not know whether the men, armed with pistols and Kalashnikov rifles, were bandits or Bosnian army soldiers.

'They took our vehicle with the three of us, then drove out of Zenica a short way, where we waited for their leader,' Mr King said. 'When he arrived we were taken at gunpoint and moved down to the side of the water.' At that point the River Bosna is about 100 feet wide, icy and fast-flowing.

'They took our coats and wallets and made us go down to the river bank, where we were made to squat down. I heard a shot and quickly looked up and saw Paul shot and I jumped for the river. I felt a round hit my arm as I hit the water. It was so cold. I lost all feeling and swam underwater for as long as I could.

'I tried to head back towards Zenica, where I saw the lights. I realised that Mack (Mr Court) was in the water too and we encouraged ourselves to keep going. Mack was with me all this time. It was wet and cold and we were encouraging each other. At the time I didn't realise I'd got a leg wound as well, as it was so cold, just bloody cold.'

Mr Court, 42, father of two from Plymouth, yesterday underwent a four-hour operation on a chest wound, carried out by a British army surgeon.

Mr King said he and his colleagues had offered to surrender their Land Rover, an attractive prize in these parts, to the hijackers, but that was not enough.

The two survivors were helped to safety by local people and treated at Zenica hospital before being transferred to the British garrison at Vitez. The Land Rover, now driven by the killers, broke through a Bosnian army roadblock and headed east.

The British army, responsible for escorting UN aid in the area, regards the attack, possibly by Muslim gunmen, as an isolated incident. But Larry Hollingworth, the chief of UN aid in Zenica, said it places 'enormous pressure' on the aid operation.

All three men were former soldiers. Mr Goodall had been a corporal in the Royal Engineers and had led a mine clearance troop in the Gulf. Mr Court is a former warrant officer in the Royal Marines and Mr King a former corporal in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Zenica is the site of a big UN warehouse, now empty of aid. The attack comes after a number of assaults on aid convoys by an increasingly desperate Muslim population. The Bosnian army and its military police are outraged and embarrassed by the attack, particularly by the supposition that Muslims were responsible.

Asked why the attackers should pick on three men working for the British ODA, which has about 100 workers in Bosnia, Mr King said: 'I think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.'

Tony Winton, head of the ODA in Zenica, said: 'The future of the aid operation depends on the investigation and the punishment handed out by the Bosnian army police.'

ZAGREB - Three Italian television journalists were killed by a shell in the south Bosnian town of Mostar yesterday, Reuter reports.

Gypsies 'cleansed', page 8

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