Serbs offer deal to empty camps

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The Independent Online
THE SERBS last night seemed ready to create one of the sharpest dilemmas the West has faced during the brutal war in Bosnia.

They indicated that they were ready to release all inmates of the detention camps, whose conditions have shocked the world. But the release would be only on condition that international organisations take responsibility for them.

This would force the West to become an accomplice to 'ethnic cleansing' - the killing and deportation of Muslims and Croats from Serb-held areas. Up to 170,000 people are estimated to be held in detention camps throughout the former Yugoslavia, most of them run by Serbs.

A US official told Reuters news agency yesterday that the information had come to Washington through diplomatic channels. 'There are indications the Serbs may offer to empty the camps if the Red Cross and the international community take responsibility for them,' said the official.

Meanwhile, a row was brewing at UN headquarters over the role of foreign troops about to be dispatched to Bosnia. Diplomatic sources said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) lodged objections to the plan by Britain, France and the US to send troops to Bosnia to protect humanitarian aid convoys.

The UNHCR is refusing British, French and US convoy protection because the agency feels it cannot compromise its neutrality by co-operating with national military forces outside UN control.

The stand-off between the aid agency and the sponsors of the UN resolution authorising the use of force threatens to spill over into another dispute between the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the Security Council.

Mr Boutros-Ghali has refused to approve the expansion of the UN peace-keeping force in Sarajevo to begin supervising heavy weapons, and he appears determined to shut down the entire operation in Bosnia once the allied forces arrive.

As a compromise Britain wants the 1,800 troops it is sending to be put under UN command, signifying that they are part of an international humanitarian effort. Sir Peter Inge, Chief of the General Staff, and US and French officials will meet Mr Boutros-Ghali in New York today in an attempt to provide UN status for the force.

That would ease UNHCR objections and allow the first aid convoys to go into Bosnia, protected by forces with the authority to shoot back if attacked. 'We don't want national troops fighting so that we can bring in supplies to Bosnia,' said a Geneva spokesman for UNHCR, which has a policy of neutrality and refuses to accept assistance from national governments.