UK aid convoys in Bosnia halted

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The Independent Online

Michael Portillo, the Defence Secretary, last night announced that British aid convoys in central Bosnia had been suspended over fears that foreign Islamic fighters are hunting down Britons.

Mr Portillo told the Commons the withdrawal had been ordered by the United Nations to protect soldiers from "vendettas" by mujahedin fighters serving with the Bosnian army.

A UN refugee official said yesterday that the move followed an incident last Sunday when two Norwegian aid workers were held up at gunpoint by two men and threatened with execution. They let them go when they discovered they were not British, said Kris Janowski, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Sarajevo. One of the gunmen spoke Arabic and UN officials believe he was a mujahedin fighter - a volunteer from an Islamic nation who joined the Muslim-led government's fight against Serb separatists.

The UN has linked the incident to the killing of a mujahedin fighter two weeks ago by a British UN soldier guarding an armoured personnel carrier during a reconnaissance near Bugojno and opened fire when he believed the man was about to shoot him, a UN spokesman said. "They seem to have been looking for Britons. They may be carrying a grudge. It is alarming," Mr Janowski said.

The Ministry of Defence in London said: "We are aware of an incident when a UNHCR convoy was hijacked and a possible threat to British personnel in Bosnia. The UN has suspended British aid convoys as a precaution and we hope to restart them soon."

Mr Portillo told MPs: "I am aware of a situation that has arisen in central Bosnia where mujahedin appear to be operating with some sort of vendetta against British troops and for the time being the UN has withdrawn British troops from certain convoy escort duties in central Bosnia. That is on the recommendation of the UN for their own protection. But the general position remains that British troops will play their full part in UN operations."

Peace stakes raised, page 12