UN aid pilots brave gunfire

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The Independent Online
BEATING with their fists on a door, tugging at the sleeves of a nun, several hundred gaunt housewives and pensioners clustered at a church in Sarajevo yesterday, refusing to believe that there was no more United Nations food. In the besieged and starving city, not enough food is getting through and supplies are threatened by renewed fighting.

'Sister, sister, please, think of my children, please,' shouted one woman. Another cried: 'I've been here seven times. One parcel, please. I have two children]' The nun, Sister Livija, slipped into the church and locked the door. Even inside, the pathetic cries of the desperate people on the porch were audible. 'I feel terrible because I cannot convince people that there are no parcels left,' she said. 'Everyone thinks that they are a priority.'

The food aid arriving in Sarajevo is far from adequate. The 300,000 civilian population needs at least 200 tons daily but even on a good day, when there is little shooting between Serb and Muslim militias at the airport, only eight planes can land, each bringing 10 to 12 tons.

The UN resumed relief flights to Sarajevo yesterday despite the fiercest fighting for days. Overnight artillery exchanges near the airport threatened to halt the deliveries of food and medicine. Planes from Britain, France and Greece arrived in the morning, one landing only two minutes after a house near the airport was hit and exploded in flames.

However, the commander of UN forces in Sarajevo, General Lewis MacKenzie, said he would close the airport if it was shelled. 'It would be irresponsible to do otherwise,' he said.

He described the overnight artillery fire as 'very disturbing. It makes a farce of what we have done so far.'

As the fighting continued, the job of distributing the parcels fell to people like Father Tomislav Jozic. It has brought him much personal torment. 'Today they started queueing at 5am even though they knew I would not begin distribution until 9am,' he said.

'We only got 300 boxes and yesterday I gave out 200. It only took two hours. Now there are no food parcels left and still the people are queueing. They think we have a secret supply.

'There are people who come here five times a day to beg for food. Even worse are the families who are really starving but who are too proud to ask for help. All I can do is ask the people who still have food to share a little.'

The constant sniper fire and shelling from the surrounding Serbian-controlled hills have forced him to remain at the church for three months. 'I went out exactly three times,' he said. 'Once to get the UN food parcels, once to see my archbishop and once to get a haircut.'

Outside the church about 100 women and old men stubbornly remained, refusing to give up hope. It was their one hope of a meal that day.

'I waited yesterday from 3pm to 8.30pm and got nothing,' said Anica Manek. 'Today I came at 6am and got nothing. Yesterday all I ate was a piece of macaroni from the Red Cross.'

Neal Ascherson, page 25