UN fears a massacre in Cerska

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - United Nations officials warned of a massacre yesterday as Serbs overran the Muslim enclave of Cerska, eastern Bosnia, and blocked UN efforts to move out 1,500 wounded people stranded by the fighting.

The enclave, near Zvornik on the Serbian border, had been besieged by the Serbs for 11 months and its starving inhabitants were the target of the first American air drop of aid on Sunday. Amateur radio messages received from Cerska said Bosnian Serbs rained artillery shells and sniper fire on the enclave on Monday to stop people reaching the bundles. UN officials and the radio operators said Serbian fighters in Cerska were killing civilians, including women and children, and tanks were rumbling through the smouldering ruins ofvillages.

'If only 10 per cent of the reports being received from ham radio operators in Cerska and Srebrenica are true, a massacre is (now) taking place in the enclave,' said a report from officials of the UN High Commission for Refugees radioed from the north-eastern Bosnian city of Tuzla.

Lyndall Sachs, UNHCR spokeswoman in Belgrade, said it appeared Serbs had entered Cerska and were moving freely, 'plundering and killing, burning'. 'People from Cerska are begging to be taken out alive,' she said.

Sarajevo Radio quoted amateur radio reports as saying Serbian fighters were shelling people fleeing Cerska. 'The roads are crawling with injured and dead,' it said.

As fighting was reported to be raging, Serbs were blocking UN attempts to evacuate up to 1,500 critically wounded and sick Muslims from Cerska. Ron Redmond, UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, said local Serbian commanders had attached impossible conditions, despite their assurances last month of free passage for humanitarian missions.

US aircraft carried out two more air drops over eastern Bosnia on Monday and last night, but there was little evidence that these were reaching their targets. One crate was reportedly found in a Serbian peasant's garden, 30km (20 miles) east of the besieged Muslim town of Zepa, where it was meant to land on Monday. Another report said a shepherd had found two large packages of medicine on a hill near Zepa.

In Washington, the Defense Department conceded that a third of the packages dropped contained pork, which Muslims are forbidden to eat. 'I assume that people who don't want to eat them won't eat them,' the Pentagon said.

The Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, later said the drops had allowed more land convoys to carry aid into the region and, as a result, the US might temporarily halt them.

The fate of Cerska underlines the biggest gap in the entire relief operation in Bosnia. Bringing food to Muslim towns by air or land is of little use if the aid's recipients are being killed or driven from their homes by better- armed Serbian forces.

The Serbs played cat and mouse with the UN over Cerska for weeks, one day saying they would allow food in, the next withdrawing permission, citing 'security problems'. During the 11-month siege no outside help got through.

The sound of Bosnian Serb artillery shells pummelling Cerska to rubble was deafening in nearby Zvornik earlier this week, although Bosnian Serb militiamen pretended they could hear nothing. 'What noise?' asked one soldier.

In Moscow, Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, said Russia would send military aircraft to drop aid to Bosnia as soon as all sides guaranteed their safety.

Gloom at peace talks, page 10