Bosnia: UN begins task of opening new lifeline

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The Independent Online
VISOKO - French and Canadian UN soldiers made the first effort to open a new lifeline to Sarajevo yesterday, clearing mines and repairing the road from this central Bosnian town. The day after Nato chiefs adopted a plan for possible air strikes against Serbian targets around the capital, an armoured patrol of French engineers and Canada's Royal 22nd Regiment inched across the Bosna river from Visoko and through two checkpoints of the Muslim-led Bosnian army.

Three miles east, on the river's northern bank, they halted before a huge crater in the road. French UN soldiers searched for mines before a bulldozer filled in the gap in a no man's land between Muslim and Serbian positions.

Yesterday's action followed a Serbian agreement to withdraw from two strategic mountains above Sarajevo. 'The Serbs have agreed to let us open the road. They have always maintained Sarajevo isn't under siege anyway,' said Lt Stephen Contre, the patrol's commander.

Whether the UN patrol would succeed in its mission was not going to be known for some time. There were 17 miles remaining to Sarajevo. For the UN, the road would be an important alternative to the main route through Kiseljak and Ilidza, the scene of heavy fighting between Serbs and Sarajevo's Muslim-led defenders since the siege began 16 months ago. With winter only months away, getting humanitarian aid through to Sarajevo is a pressing concern for UN troops protecting international relief convoys.

'The Serbs have opened this road up before,' said a UN military spokesman. 'After all, it's in their interest to allow civilians out.'

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