American air-drops 'reaching Muslims'

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The Independent Online
FOR THE fourth successive night, US Air Force planes flew over the Muslim town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia early yesterday to deliver aid to the beleaguered population.

The operation was the ninth US air-drop so far and involved six

C-130 transport planes, which sent down 36.3 tons of food and 4.3 tons of medicines by parachute. In all, 255 tons of aid have been dropped on eastern Bosnia.

Reliable reports from the Muslim enclaves are hard to come by, but it appears that the latest air-drops have been generally successful. The area under Muslim control at Srebrenica includes not just the town but surrounding roads and hamlets, and this means that the US pilots have a relatively large area to aim at.

By contrast, an attempt to drop aid last week on the enclave of Cerska was fraught with difficulty, because the settlement was small and under attack. Cerska fell to the Serbs last Thursday and thousands of Muslims trekked across 30 miles of snowy countryside to reach the sanctuary of Srebrenica.

The US pilots fly high to avoid ground fire, and need to achieve considerable accuracy to drop packages of military food rations and medicines on the right spot. According to General Philippe Morillon, the commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, the pilots have done a good job. After visiting Cerska and the nearby enclave of Konjevic Polje last weekend, he said it was clear many Muslims had located the packages intended for them.

Muslim leaders have been reluctant to praise Western relief efforts for Bosnia, because they think the West is using them as an excuse for not intervening directly in the war. For the Muslims, nothing short of Western military support is acceptable.

Paradoxically, the Serbs also think the air-drops are pointless since, in their view, the Muslims have enough food. For the people in a besieged town like Srebrenica, however, it is likely that the US air-drops are extremely welcome.

On the ground, UN ambulances returned to their base in Serbia after they were stopped from entering eastern Bosnia to evacuate wounded from a besieged Muslim enclave, a UN spokesmen said. The hold-up came as troops of the mainly Muslim Bosnian army made new attacks yesterday after launching a multiple offensive on Monday in eastern Bosnia. The convoy blocked traffic for several hours and provoked several heated incidents. A French soldier was slightly wounded when someone in a car fired an automatic weapon at the convoy.

Just ten minutes before this incident, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party had blown his car horn before getting out and threatening to shoot a French soldier.

'I'm going to shoot you,' shouted Vojislav Seselj. He repeated this threat to several other UN officers with the convoy.

In Washington, the French President, Francois Mitterrand, said after a meeting with President Bill Clinton yesterday that he would take part personally in peace negotiations on the former Yugoslavia under UN auspices.

Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President, has been invited to Paris tomorrow to meet Mr Mit terrand and UN and EC peace mediators.

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