Peace-keepers set for showdown with Serbs

British soldiers in the Bosnian capital would like a spell of action but expect a diplomatic solution, writes Emma Daly in Sarajevo; WHAT TROOPS SAY
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Despite all the sound and fury about Bosnia in the outside world, the capital is remarkably, almost ominously, quiet. The Bosnian Serbs have turned their sights away from the enemy to the United Nations. The peace-keepers are hunkered down, awaiting orders and a possible surprise attack by Serbs, dressed in their uniforms.

The Bosnian army is biding its time, waiting to see what the world does.

More than 220 UN soldiers have been detained by the Serbs, including 33 Britons from the Royal Welch Fusiliers, captured in Gorazde on Sunday, and at least 17 unarmed military observers.

Another 146 peace-keepers are surrounded by Serbs, threatening to kill them. Britain is sending 1,200 extra troops with two artillery batteries to help protect its soldiers. But there is a risk that further robust action will endanger the hostages.

Their comrades in Sarajevo say the world should not bow down to "terrorists", although "getting even is not the name of the game", warned Captain Des Williams of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

"We should be allowed to use more force," said Doug, a Fusilier. "I think [Nato air strikes] should be called off until they free the hostages ... but the Serbs are our enemy now."

Although eager to see their comrades freed, the Fusiliers in Sarajevo, whose job is to run convoys to Gorazde (not arduous work recently, as the Serbs have banned most convoys) are not too worried about those in detention.

"I honestly think they'll be thriving on it - they're having a bit of action," Captain Williams said.

"That's what we're trained for," chipped in Glen. Stuck in Sarajevo with little to do, the Fusiliers have taken somecomfort in watching Wales' first victory in the Rugby World Cup.

In Gorazde, "The lads prefer being in the observation posts [from where the British were captured] than at camp, because you get on well with the warring factions there," said Matt, who served in the enclave for about two months. "They bring you bread, and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday." The posts are fortified portable buildings furnished with beds. The more remote ones are sandbagged bunkers with a roof, which can only be reached on foot.

The Serbs, having blocked fuel convoys for months, sell the Britons wood to cook with. They have offered beer too, but the Fusiliers cannot get money in because of the ban on convoys. The men in Sarajevo expect their comrades to be well-treated, because of previous good relations.

The troops here are on "state orange-ish" - flak-jackets and helmets within reach - but on alert for a possible surprise attack by Serbs in disguise, using UN equipment stolen in Sarajevo and Gorazde, where they seized seven armoured vehicles.

"It's become more tense since the Serbs stole the French APCs," Mel said. "That puts everyone on edge because you don't know who is going to enter UN bases."

The Fusiliers, based at the Bosnian television station, have come under rocket attack in the past week, without being able to respond. "It's something you grow to accept," Captain Williams said. "We just watch them firing from the roof." The Bosnian army fired mortars from the area recently, but is respecting the UN warning to cease heavy-weapons fire.

"If the UN doesn't do anything I can only see the Bosnians taking so much," Mel said. But the soldiers expect a diplomatic push rather than a military one.

Sarajevans agree."They'll try to find a diplomatic way to solve the situation," said Vladimir Vidovic, an engineer pulling a trolley stacked with water containers, an image of the bad old days, resurrected this week when the Serbs cut off water to the city.

He watched pictures of UN hostages paraded for Serb television cameras but does not believe the Serb threats to kill them. "Basically they are cowards", he said. But, he added: "They are in a much better position than us, because they have been hostages for three days, we have been hostages for three years. The have food and drink, they don't have to collect water like we do."

He stood by the sandbagged entrance to the brewery, where Sarajevans fill plastic containers from stand-pipes.

"It is very important for us that the world is discussing the issue of Bosnia," he said.

"Unfortunately, the world's politicians are much more concerned about the UN soldiers than the people killed in Tuzla [last week by a Serb shell]. That's the main topic, the UN soldiers, not the civilians suffering here."