Bosnia: Muslims condemn Mostar 'blockade': City's plight said to be worse than that of Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN army commanders accused Croatian forces yesterday of maintaining a blockade on the southern city of Mostar that was even more devastating than the Serbian siege of Sarajevo. They said that Bosnian Croat forces, backed by troops from Croatia, had looted and destroyed thousands of apartments in Mostar and had burned down scores of mosques.

'We consider the situation in Mostar to be much more difficult than in Sarajevo with regard to food, water and medical supplies,' said General Jovan Divljak, the deputy commander of Bosnia's Muslim-led army.

United Nations aid workers estimate that between 25,000 and 35,000 Muslims, more than half of them refugees, are trapped in the eastern half of Mostar with minimal food supplies and no electricity or tap water. Croatian forces control the city's western part and are preventing emergency food aid from reaching the eastern sector. Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that no aid convoy had reached Mostar since 15 June.

'Food supplies were running very low by the end of May. There were only 15,000 to 20,000 people in eastern Mostar at that time, and they were living on cherries picked from trees and bread they baked for themselves. Since then thousands more people have moved in, and the situation in Mostar today is probably worse than Sarajevo,' Mr Kessler said.

Fighting erupted in Mostar between Bosnian Muslims and Croats, who were formerly allies against the Serbs, on 9 May. The root cause was the Bosnian Croat ambition to annexe south western Bosnia-Herzegovina and turn the area into a virtual province of Croatia. The Bosnian Croats had already proclaimed the city to be the capital of their self-styled state, even though the pre-war national breakdown of the Mostar region was 35 per cent Muslim, 34 per cent Croat and 19 per cent Serb.

Muslim forces have inflicted a string of defeats on the Bosnian Croat army, the HVO, in central Bosnia over the last two months, but they have not been able to break the Croatian stranglehold on eastern Mostar.

Meagre amounts of food arrive by horse and mule, but the road north of Mostar has been blown up in several places, making it impossible for trucks and cars to reach the city's Muslim-controlled sector.

The Muslim-controlled Bosnia radio reported that 10 people had been killed and dozens injured in Mostar by Bosnian Croat shelling on Tuesday, and that a Bosnian Croat aircraft had bombed the old town district.

Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, urged the UN Security Council three weeks ago to declare Mostar a UN-protected 'safe area', but his appeal fell on deaf ears. The Security Council has confined its list of 'safe areas' for Muslims to Sarajevo, Tuzla, Bihac and three smaller enclaves in eastern Bosnia. The International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva last week that 2,000 Muslim prisoners in the Mostar area were being forced by the Croats to work on the front line in violation of international war conventions.

Bosnian army spokesmen accused Croatian troops of looting 8,000 apartments in western Mostar and burning down 1,000 flats and houses.

In Sarajevo, UN military officials disputed a claim by the Bosnian army that Serbian forces had failed to withdraw from Mount Igman and Mount Bjelaslica, two strategic heights overlooking the capital. The officials said the withdrawal, which was supposed to have been completed by 4pm last Saturday, was virtually finished but some 'stragglers' were still on the mountain.

Bosnian army officers said that at least 250 Serbian troops had stayed in place and that they suspected many more were hidden in woods on the mountains. The officers said they had warned General Francis Briquemont, the UN commander for Bosnia, that they would order an assault on the Serbian position if the withdrawal was delayed much longer.

The mainly Muslim defenders of Sarajevo argue that UN officers who negotiate with the Serbs are not tough enough and that the UN Protection Force in Bosnia, known as Unprofor, might just as well be called Serbprofor, or Serbian Protection Force. But Colonel Barry Frewer, a UN spokesman, said: 'There is a perception by some people that there is a bias towards the Serbs. That is absolutely not the case.'

Jonathan Eyal, page 33

(Map omitted)

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