Bosnia: UK cautious on more airlifts

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The Independent Online
BRITISH officials yesterday sounded a note of caution about UN hopes of mounting more evacuation operations for other embattled towns in Bosnia, after being inundated by offers of hospital beds for the injured in Sarajevo.

The British response is likely to disappoint UN officials who raised the prospect of running evacuation operations for refugees in other towns, such as Mostar and Tuzla, after the flood of offers from around the world of hospital beds for the injured.

The UN now has more than enough capacity to clear its lists in Sarajevo. Faced with that prospect, UN officials hoped that other towns could be helped. 'We have so many offers now we can move people almost as fast as they come in. We would now like to take people out from other towns such as Mostar and Tuzla, if we can,' said Sylvana Foa, spokeswoman in Geneva for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

However, the Prime Minister's office said yesterday that transport difficulties to areas outside Sarajevo made it unlikely that evacuations like those for Sarajevo could be mounted to towns such as Mostar. 'We need to be careful about the transport difficulties to areas outside Sarajevo,' said a Government source.

The British officials also gave a clear signal that Britain will now hold back from further evacuations to allow other countries that have volunteered to take more injured, led by Italy, to share the strain.

The British government appeared relieved the offers from other countries would lift the public pressure for it to undertake further urgent evacuations. It is reassessing the need to put more medical aid into Sarajevo. 'Certainly we are prepared to help with other countries. What you will find is that it is other countries that take the next wave,' said the source. 'We started this ball rolling and it looks as though the complete list will be met. It is the patients who should be our number-one priority.'

The Government is still refusing to commit Britain to a guarantee that Sarajevo will not fall. John Major's office said it looked as though 'things are getting better' but it stood by the Geneva peace plan under which the United Nations will take over the administration of the city.

Despite the controversy about the disclosure that some soldiers were among the injured airlifted to Britain, the Government said it could not veto help for soldiers. Mr Major's office said that under Article Three of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, once combatants laid down their arms they were entitled to medical treatment, without prejudice.

Over the long term, the Prime Minister wants to see improvements in the way that evacuations are handled by the United Nations. Downing Street officials said he was pleased the UN was reviewing its procedures, which were attacked by senior Tory MPs as bureaucratic.

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