Aid flights halt on eve of no-fly patrol

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - This city was almost isolated from the world yesterday after the United Nations stopped aid flights on the eve of the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia, writes Marcus Tanner.

There is no sign that the Bosnian Serbs intend to challenge the UN head-on about the decision to enforce the no-fly rule. But UN officials in the city are nervous. The discovery this week by Serbs of ammunition hidden in a UN aid convoy, the mounting Serbian offensive against the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, and reports that the Serbs are moving heavy artillery into the vicinity of Sarajevo airport have put the UN on a state of unofficial alert.

There are fears the Serbs may target aid planes coming into Sarajevo in retaliation for the enforcement of the no-fly rule, which almost solely targets Serbian forces. The Bosnian Croats have only a couple of light aircraft, while the Muslim-led Bosnian government has no air force at all.

In Sarajevo a UN spokesman yesterday confirmed that the Bosnian Serbs are still violating the no-fly rule in their offensive against Srebrenica, using helicopters to transport troops. The big question is whether the Serbs will risk being shot down and continue flying, and what their reaction will be if Western fighter-jets down their aircraft. Experience shows that the Serbs usually back off when confronted with superior military might. The use of aircraft is not in any case crucial to the Serbian war effort. Their success in overrunning 70 per cent of Bosnia owes more to a crushing advantage in artillery and tanks.

The cut-off of aid planes meanwhile will worsen the food shortage in Sarajevo. About 17 planes a day coupled with regular land convoys form a slender lifeline for Sarajevo's almost 400,000 inhabitants. At the best of times it is just enough to keep the city's population from starvation. With aid flights cancelled, the small stocks of food in UN warehouses in the city are in danger of emptying.

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