Aid agency attacks UN's Bosnia work

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MEDECINS Sans Frontieres, the roving aid agency operating in 63 countries, yesterday accused the United Nations of flouting the principles of international humanitarian law in its operations in Bosnia.

'In Bosnia, UN troops are not using force, but they are not respecting the principles of humanitarian law either,' said Francoise Bouchet- Saulnier, MSF's head of legal affairs. 'In Somalia, they are using force but they are not respecting the rules of war. It causes great problems for humanitarian organisations.'

Ms Bouchet-Saulnier, in London to present the MSF report Life, Death and Aid, said the UN was getting bogged down in bargaining with the warring parties over prisoners and convoys to gain access for its operations. 'We have lost the whole impartiality of the role. The distinction between combatant and non-combatant has been lost.

'No one knows on what legal basis they work. It is not possible to work with people taking on a mandate without fulfilling it,' she added.

The UN Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia has become the whipping boy of all independent agencies operating there. Yet agencies have stopped short of calling for UN withdrawal, or threatening to pull out themselves. 'I would be lying if I did not admit that we did not say to ourselves from time to time, 'What are we doing here',' said another MSF spokeswoman. 'But pulling out of Bosnia would be the world's worst sin for 10 years.'

Senior Unprofor officials denied they were involved in any 'bargaining' with the parties. Lieutenant-Commander Jean Marcotte, at Unprofor headquarters in Zagreb, said: 'What is humanitarian law? All we do is try and get the aid to the people. You have to work with people on the ground to do that. We are being criticised by everybody - for doing too much, for not doing enough, for not intervening, for intervening, you name it. We are getting used to being criticised.'

MSF has presented its report to the UN in New York. The Bosnia chapter concludes: 'The Bosnian disaster . . . has flouted all the ideals on which the European democracies were founded in the aftermath of the Second World War. Until some decision is taken, the citizens of prosperous Europe will have to look on, in anguish, as armed men continue to turn this small part of European civilisation into a graveyard.'