Alert as aid fails to reach Tuzla

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The Independent Online
TUZLA airport, the most important airfield in Bosnian Muslim- held territory, is reported to have received no deliveries of humanitarian aid even though the United Nations reopened it with a great fanfare in March, writes Tony Barber. In an open letter, Selim Beslagic, mayor of Tuzla, said a humanitarian disaster could hit the region if the Bosnian war entered a third winter.

He wrote: 'The only secure supply route is through Tuzla airport . . . but not a single humanitarian shipment has been delivered so far. No one has been offered a convincing explanation.'

Tuzla is the largest region under the Muslim-led Bosnian government's control, containing about 450,000 people, of whom at least half are Muslim refugees from fighting elsewhere in Bosnia. Large amounts of foreign aid have reached Tuzla by road, but the airport was kept closed for almost two years for fear that the surrounding Bosnian Serb forces would attack aircraft landing and taking off.

In March the UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, opened the airport at a ceremony during which he declared: 'For the people of Tuzla and the entire population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the opening of the airport means the arrival of peace at last.'

If Mr Akashi's words sound hollow now, it is partly because the UN forces in Bosnia have never felt confident enough to maximise the potential of Tuzla airport in the face of the Bosnian Serb firepower around them. The airport, which is under UN control, was shelled by Bosnian Serb forces on two successive days in May, and UN sources say their peace-keeping troops in the area are regularly intimidated in other ways by Bosnian Serbs.

Mr Beslagic said the use of Tuzla airport for humanitarian aid deliveries would enable supplies to be sent to the highly vulnerable eastern Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. He said 47,000 people, mostly refugees, lived in Srebrenica but even basic foods were scarce.