Bosnia: Passionate plea from Muslims' shining soldier

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER British paratrooper who has been directing the defence of Mostar appealed in London yesterday for the West to put pressure on the Croatian leaders to lift the siege of the town. 'Otherwise the 35,000 people of the town will be sacrificed and their blood will be on the West's hands.

'They are holding Mostar to ransom. If they don't get their way at the Geneva talks, they'll commit genocide. The UN must keep the aid convoys coming through. They must force their way through. All the time the West is talking, people are dying.'

He spoke as an aid convoy was poised to enter the town. He had slipped out to London not to raise money, but to raise the awareness of those who supported the Bosnian cause. Much of the time he went round mosques in Southall and elsewhere in London. It was not aid or volunteers he wanted.

'I could take back a thousand men tomorrow but I've discouraged them. It would be too dangerous. We have all the people we want. It's weapons we don't have. I've been talking to the Muslims here, telling them not to send aid or food. That is just grabbed on the way to feed Croats. It's not getting to us. They should give money to some charity to be ready to be passed on to us at the right time.'

For 57 years of his life he was called Norrie. Then a year ago, the former sergeant became Nouri - 'shining' - after his conversion to Islam and the Bosnian cause. Don't use my surname, he asked: it's not Muslim.

His conversion was simultaneous with a transfer of allegiance. When he first arrived in the Balkans two years ago he was one of a group of 'internationals' who helped train forces of the HVO Croatian militia. He was sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina, to a training camp where 60 per cent of recruits were Muslim, 40 per cent Croat. All were Bosnian. After a time, he was told not to train any more Muslims. At a meeting of commanders he was told that the plan was to fight with the Muslims against the Serbs, establish a border, then push the Muslims out to the mercy of the Serbs. It was time for him to jump ship.

Nouri, now a colonel in the 1st Mostar Brigade of the Bosnian army, was born in Bargoed near Cardiff and joined 1 Para. After 22 years in the army, specialising in jungle warfare and urban guerrilla fighting, he did a series of jobs as security guard until he came to Zagreb. He still believes in a Bosnia where all communities can live in harmony and blames the Serbs of Serbia and the Croats of Croatia for the mess. 'I'm fighting for Bosnia against those from outside.'

'I do it because I have a family there. A family of 35,000. Everyone there knows me. If I see suffering I have to do something about it. Why can't people live in peace? It would put people like me out of work. Not that I make much. I get paid pounds 4.50 a week - when I get paid.

'I wanted to be the father of the Bosnian army, to raise and train a professional army. Now they are just irregulars. Each town has its own irregulars. They are brave, very brave.

'Here the frontline is a street. It's about 40 metres (130 feet) wide. We're on one side. They're on the other. We can throw grenades at each other. My men go with crates of Molotov cocktails. They're using mortars, that's the worst bit. My vehicle's been hit a few times. It looks like a Tetley tea bag, it's been hit so often.

'The Balkan mentality. They don't know how to compromise. It's not in their nature. They come in, thump the table, and state what they want. They won't listen to the other side.'

But did he believe that Bosnian co- existence could be re-created? 'It could go either way. People are tired. Of the torture. The disappearances. The blood spilt. We're all tired.'

Three Bosnian men being treated for eye injuries in London as part of Operation Irma are likely to be discharged from hospital on Monday, a week after arriving from Sarajevo, PA reports.

A spokesman for Moorfields Eye Hospital said plans were being made for the discharge of Zaim Pasic, 34, Dzerad Dedovic, 29, and Nevin Dilbervoic, 22, as they were nearing the end of their 'full-time treatment'.