Ambush blocks UN aid convoy in Bosnia

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United Nations peace-keepers in Bosnia were forced to abandon plans to send food and medicine to the besieged Muslim town of Gorazde yesterday after a relief convoy was ambushed on the road into the town.

The 20 troops in the convoy came under sustained attack for almost 24 hours and were rescued by another UN unit which sped out from Sarajevo and escorted them back to the Bosnian capital.

The failure of the mission meant that the 70,000 people of Gorazde, which is the last big Muslim town in eastern Bosnia not to have fallen to Serbian forces, are in a more desperate plight than ever. They have been cut off from the outside world for weeks, and Serbian forces surrounding the town are confident that it will soon fall.

A UN peace-keeper, Fabrizio Rothschild, said that he and his colleagues in the convoy had not expected to survive the weekend. Without an effective ceasefire the UN could do little for the people of Gorazde unless it attempted an air drop of supplies, he said.

At least 20 people were killed over the weekend in Sarajevo, which has been under siege for three months from Serbian gunners in the hills around the city. Three people were killed when a shell exploded while they were queuing for scarce food supplies.

UN officials said that sniper- fire was continuing to hinder the movement of UN vehicles between their headquarters in the west of Sarajevo and the city's airport.

'It is a very dangerous trip,' said a UN spokesman, Mike Magnusson. Relief flights into the airport are the only means that the UN has found to keep the 300,000 people of Sarajevo supplied with food.

The fighting in Sarajevo and Gorazde made clear that a ceasefire brokered by Lord Carrington in London on 17 July was in ruins. Despite that, leaders of Bosnia's Muslim, Croatian and Serbian communities are due to meet again in London today for another attempt at peace-making.

The British government, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Community, said on Saturday that it would convene a peace conference on Yugoslavia late next month.

The conference will bring together leaders of the rival nationalities, the EC and the UN. The US Secretary of State, James Baker, is also expected to attend.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said that the conference would discuss all options except direct Western military intervention.

But Janez Jansa, the Defence Minister of Slovenia, which fought a brief war against the Serbian-led Yugoslav army last summer, said that military intervention was 'the only way to stop the armed conflict and the attempt at genocide against the Muslims'.

Muslim leaders in Bosnia have been pressing for Western military help ever since the civil war broke out in early April.

They announced last week that they had formed a military alliance with Croatia, saying that unless the West halted the bloodshed the two republics would launch joint war operations against Serbian forces.

SARAJEVO - A large overland aid convoy set off from Croatia to open up overland supply routes for the besieged Bosnian capital, AFP reports.

A UN High Commissioner for Refugees official, Peter Kessler, said the 20-truck convoy from Split in Croatia, 186 miles away, and transporting 190 tons of food, 'has to be a sign of things to come'. He said the convoy was due in Sarajevo on Wednesday.