Bosnia: 17 nations offer to help: 1,278 hospital places now available

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THE United Nations said yesterday it had received offers of help from 17 countries for casualties of the Bosnian war and a total of 1,278 hospital places were now available.

Sylvana Foa, spokeswoman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the agency had been 'deluged with offers' following the worldwide publicity accorded to the plight of wounded children trapped in Sarajevo.

At the same time, Ms Foa said the military situation around the besieged capital had eased dramatically. 'We are seeing an enormous change in attitude from soldiers at checkpoints,' she said. The UNHCR was finding it much easier to get relief supplies through.

However, Ms Foa did not endorse the controversial suggestion by a UN spokesman in Sarajevo itself that the city could no longer be considered under siege. 'For me there's a siege until Migros (the big Swiss supermarket chain) delivers fruit, eggs and vegetables to the market there,' she said.

Ms Foa angrily dismissed Serbian claims that the UNHCR was doing nothing for Serbian casualties. 'One of the children lifted out on Sunday was a Serb boy suffering from leukaemia and our staff went across front lines to pick that boy up and bring him to the Swedish plane,' she said.

She also responded to criticism in the British press that some of the casualties flown out so far had been soldiers. 'We have international treaties. Everyone is entitled to medical attention,' she said.

'No one is considered a belligerent or a combatant if they have laid down their weapon,' Ms Foa added. 'Under international law any combatant who has been wounded, requires medical attention, has laid down their weapon, is entitled to that protection.

'If the Falklands had turned into a Yugoslavia and UNHCR had gone in there to try and get humanitarian assistance in and we had refused to send for medical evacuation British soldiers there would have been a major outcry.'

Ms Foa also said she knew nothing of a report in the Washington Post claiming that the UNHCR had vetoed a plan by the United States to drop aid to the besieged Muslim town of Mostar, allegedly because the UN wants to keep up pressure on the Muslims for a settlement.

'One thing we do not do is use food as a weapon,' she said. 'I have heard nothing about any such plan but I can tell you that it was the general view of the military that airdrops on big cities harm more people than they help.'