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Bosnia truce lays heavy burden on UK forces: A fragile ceasefire is holding in Vitez but UN peace-keepers face a struggle to fight bitterness and hatred

THE TENTATIVE peace between Bosnian government and Bosnian Croat forces may be in jeopardy unless the United Nations approves a request for up to 5,000 fresh troops, according to Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the British UN commander in Bosnia.

The relative success of the recent ceasefires in Sarajevo, Mostar and central Bosnia has placed additional burdens on General Rose's troops, as they seek to build confidence among warring factions and police the truce, while maintaining their mandate to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.

General Rose fears the workload will stretch his soldiers so that they will not be able to contain fighting. 'We're in a very, very fragile and sensitive time, and the longer it goes on where we're having to fill gaps by taking troops from elsewhere, inevitably the thing will start to crumble,' he said yesterday during a brief visit to the British battalion in Vitez. He added that there are 'increasing difficulties' over ceasefire violations and that troops in Sarajevo had been slow to react to incidents in the capital.

Despite the latest ceasefire violations, life is slowly returning to normal in central Bosnia. Ljuljana Saric was the first shopper in store in Stara Bila yesterday, spending 50 Deutschmarks ( pounds 20) on the luxuries available: bars of milk and nut chocolate; washing powder; margarine; chocolate spread; and paprika. 'It's very nice to be able to shop,' she said. 'It's much nicer to carry a wallet and go to a shop to buy food than to wait for humanitarian aid.' The people of Stara Bila had planned a shopping trip to Split, for weeks but the ceasefire helped.

Nikola Taraba, the shopkeeper, was thrilled to be back in business - although it will be a long time before he finds alcohol for the off- licence section. Families who contributed DM100 each to the Split trip have already received a package of basic foodstuffs, but the shop was crammed yesterday with villagers buying chocolate at DM2 a bar. 'I feel like I did before the war,' said Dragan Rados, with a wide smile.

Life is not quite as sweet in Stari Vitez, where some 1,200 people are crammed into an area of 700 square yards. But even here, children, women and soldiers poured on to the streets to beg for cigarettes and chocolate, safe at last from the shelling that has ruined many houses and the sniping that has killed.

But Stari Vitez provides a graphic example of the difficulties ahead: its makeshift wartime cemetery, once an orchard and pasture, is bounded by two lines of unmarked wooden posts, the graves of 106 villagers massacred by Croats in Ahimici. There, too, lie the war dead of Stari Vitez, among them Serif Causevic. His son Galib, 17, has fought hard to defend the scrap of land where his father died, shot by a Croatian sniper. Asked if he would be prepared to live again with his Croatian neighbours, he replied: 'Never. Never again.'

The politicians of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina have signed a piece of paper; the soldiers are more or less obeying the order to cease fire. But it will be up to the United Nations, to the peace-keepers here, to prevent the seeds of bitterness and hatred from flowering anew.

'It's a very fragile process we're involved in and it's all to do with confidence-building,' General Rose said. 'You only have to have one group opening fire for one reason or another and of course everyone starts to become extremely nervous.' In Sarajevo, he saw people playing cards at the front, until a grenade round was fired. When the general next visited, he found the troops back in their trenches.