UN haggles to save Mostar: Aid convoy could be split between Muslim and Croatian districts of besieged city

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN CROAT forces maintained their blockade of the southern city of Mostar yesterday as United Nations relief workers sought permission to send a convoy of food and medicines to tens of thousands of Muslims trapped there.

According to reporters in Mostar, Croats and UN officials in the city agreed that a convoy would be allowed to take in relief supplies to the besieged Muslim eastern half of the city today. It would not be allowed to bring out any wounded Muslims, only Croat dead. A Bosnian Croat spokesman, Veso Vegar, speaking from the city, said a convoy would be allowed into the eastern enclave tomorrow. There was no confirmation of either report from the UN.

The Bosnian Croats have said that no aid will be allowed in until wounded and sick Croats are moved out safely from a makeshift hospital in Nova Bila, a small settlement that is one of the last remaining Croat-held areas in central Bosnia. Muslim forces dominate the territory around Nova Bila, where several thousand Croatian civilians are holed up.

The Muslim-Croat fighting has been so intense in central Bosnia since April that the Croats in Nova Bila fear their wounded and sick would be in danger of being killed if they did not have protection when being evacuated.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has denounced Mostar's blockade, but Lyndall Sachs, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said the organisation was willing to divide the next convoy's food and medical supplies equally between Croats in western Mostar and Muslims in the east. 'It is a trade-off. If that is what is needed to secure our primary aim, which is to get over the first hurdle and get into the east side with food and medical supplies, then we will do it,' she said.

According to the UN, the Croats have refused to explain why they have prevented other aid convoys from travelling to Muslim-held areas of Bosnia. One possible reason is that, having suffered defeats at Muslim hands in the past four months, the Croats see no reason why their enemies should receive sustenance from international aid groups. The Croats complain that there are tens of thousands of beleaguered Croatian civilians in central Bosnia whose fate the world is ignoring.

No aid has reached Mostar for more than two months. The city lacks running water and electricity, and UN officials say that some residents and refugees are on the brink of starvation.

Ms Sachs said the UNHCR could send a convoy of 11 lorries with 130 tonnes of supplies into Mostar tomorrow if the Bosnian Croat armed forces, the HVO, lifted their blockade. 'We are hopeful that Wednesday will be the day that the HVO will stop being bloody-minded,' said Ms Sachs.

Croatian forces have also blocked aid convoys destined for Sarajevo and the central Bosnian towns of Zenica and Jablanica. The lorries have been held up at Metkovic in southern Croatia for the past six days.

Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, sent a letter to the UN Security Council on Sunday demanding immediate action over Mostar and other southern areas where the Croats have rounded up men of fighting age in detention centres and herded women, children and the elderly into the city's eastern sector. 'Tens of thousands of people have been expelled from their homes and land with the aim of creating an ethnically pure Croatian territory,' the President said.

Eastern Mostar contains about 20,000 residents and 35,000 refugees, but only one in three buildings is still habitable. The Bosnian government estimates that, since the fighting erupted in Mostar on 9 May, 107 Muslim civilians have been killed, including 53 children, and 458 people have been wounded, including 68 children.

Muslim resistance to the latest Geneva peace plan, which proposes dividing Bosnia into Serbian, Croatian and Muslim autonomous regions, was questioned yesterday. One UN official said: 'There is very little scope for readjustment. I don't think the other parties (Serbs and Croats) want to start negotiating again . . . if the Muslims reject this plan and if we could succeed in getting everyone back to the table again, what are the chances of getting a better deal? Unlikely. The Muslims have a losing hand.'

The European Community in Brussels is debating the plan to give the EC temporary administration of Mostar. 'We received the proposal recently,' the Belgian presidency said yesterday. 'It is being discussed among the 12 and we are considering the implications.'

Muslims in the city believe that

ultra-nationalist Croat politicians and generals will hold out for a divided Mostar, just as rebel Serbian leaders have insisted Sarajevo must be divided. But the Muslims insist they will never surrender their twin goals of a united Bosnia and a single, multi-ethnic city.

Relatives of the wounded Bosnian children sent to Britain last week appealed for the West to use military action to force aid convoys through. Otherwise thousands more would die, they told a London press conference.

Families' appeal, page 2

Izetbegovic U-turn, page 6

Where words fail, page 11

Leading article, page 19

Threat the West must make, page 20