Two million in Bosnia are on brink of starvation

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA is facing an impending humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations aid chief said yesterday as she called an emergency meeting of donor countries this week to stave off the total collapse of the aid operation.

Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the organisation had only three weeks of supplies left to feed about 2 million Bosnians depending for survival on UN handouts. 'We're getting to the point where the space for humanitarian action is just no longer there,' she said.

The appeal to the West for more money came as the aid operation showed signs of breaking down in central Bosnia, amid increased fighting between Muslims and Croats, and the tightening of Bosnian Serb blockades around Muslim enclaves.

In Gorazde, one of the UN-designated 'safe areas' for Muslims in eastern Bosnia, Serb forces at the weekend blocked a UN food and medical convoy destined for 60,000 Muslims trapped in the town.

Ms Ogata voiced her worst fears about Sarajevo, where an acute water shortage is exacerbating outbreaks of typhus and dysentery among the city's undernourished population. The Serbs' refusal to let supplies of fuel into the city has shut down water pumps, forcing many people to walk several miles each day, often under sniper fire, to one of a handful of open springs. Others have resorted to boiling brackish river water or even sewage. At the weekend doctors in the city's main hospital reported 750 new cases of typhus and warned that thousands more were on the way.

At the forthcoming meeting of UN aid donor countries, Ms Ogata is expected to savage niggardly contributions by rich Western countries.

At the start of the war a blaze of publicity encouraged Western governments to dig into their pockets. Fifteen months on, aid officials warn that contributions have dried up.

Launching the appeal, Ms Ogata was careful to emphasise that all three sides in the civil war have manipulated aid. 'We are stopped by the warring parties for their own purposes - they use aid as a weapon for the war, which is unacceptable.'

In central Bosnia it is Croatian forces who block UN supplies headed for Muslim districts. In eastern Bosnia Serbs stop UN food convoys from reaching Muslim enclaves. In Sarajevo the Muslim-led authorities appear reluctant to let the UN reconnect the city's electricity supply, lest at the same time they reconnect Serb districts which house arms factories.

In the shadow of the looming disaster, Bosnia's collective presidency announced agreement yesterday to back a plan for a federal state, a move that runs counter to Serb-Croat demands for ethnic partition. 'They (presidency members) agreed the constitutional make-up of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be along the lines of a federal state in which all citizens of three nationalities will have equal rights,' said a statement issued by the presidency.

Mile Akmadzic, a Croat member, said the complete presidency of nine, including President Alija Izetbegovic, would go to Geneva for peace talks within a week to 10 days. 'All initiatives, this one and the Serb-Croat one will be discussed equally in Geneva,' he told reporters.

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