UN troop famine puts Muslim 'safe areas' at risk

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TOO FEW troops have been sent to Bosnia to protect Muslim 'safe havens'. The United Nations, facing extreme shortages of soldiers elsewhere in the country, has been forced to withdraw some from the enclaves, leaving them more vulnerable to Serbian attack.

The UN has said it needs at least 7,500 troops and 50 military observers to secure the six safe areas designated by the Security Council: Sarajevo, Bihac, Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde and Tuzla.

But fewer than 2,000 troops, including 800 French soldiers, have been provided. No more troops are likely to be sent.

A senior UN official said: 'The fact is we don't have enough troops for all our tasks so we have to redeploy. It's sad. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul.'

According to UN officials one company of Canadian soldiers, about a quarter of the force protecting Srebrenica, was withdrawn, starting on 2 October. The Bosnian army objected because it would allow Serbian forces to advance within rifle range.

On 3 October the withdrawing units had 'to force passage out of the town when the population started to stone the UN vehicles', according to an internal UN report.

The UN also reports that in the past two weeks there has been a marked increase in Serbian sniping, mostly directed at women and children working in the fields around town, killing several. However, the UN said it was unable to determine whether the upsurge was directly linked to the Canadian withdrawal.

There have also been reports of UN troop redeployments from Gorazde.

'What it really means is that 'safe areas' are not safe for the people who live there,' said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In June, the EC said it would provide the men and money to protect the safe areas, as it was faced with the US-backed alternative of lifting the arms embargo on the Muslims.

Despite furious opposition from Serbia, Croatia and other belligerents, the international mediator Lord Owen is throwing his energy into devising a solution for ex-Yugoslavia which will put the forgotten war in Croatia at the top of the agenda.

Lord Owen told the Independent the attempts to settle the war in Bosnia in isolation from the fundamental conflict - between Serbia and Croatia - was leading up a blind alley.

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - More than 2.7 million people, mostly besieged Muslims, are in danger of dying from starvation and cold in central Bosnia this winter, according to Timothy Knight of the US Agency for International Development.