Bosnian winter threatens the old

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO (Reuter-AFP) - As heavy fighting flared between Serbian and Bosnian forces in several parts of Sarajevo yesterday, a senior United Nations official warned that relief efforts were failing in Bosnia and radical action was needed to save hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by fighting and severe weather.

'There is no humanitarian solution to this human tragedy . . . we are still confronted with an almost impossible task,' said Jose Maria Mendiluce, the special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 'If something radical doesn't take place many people will die this winter . . . we have been saying that for months now,' he added. The UNHCR, the main relief agency in Bosnia, appears to have been spurred into action by the suffering in the Nedzarici nursing home, where a dozen old people have died of cold since the weekend in the absence of aid.

Yesterday UN troops installed five stoves at the home, where indoor temperatures had hovered below -10C. A Serb and a French doctor were assessing the condition of the 108 survivors and deciding who had to be evacuated immediately.

Mr Mendiluce brought up the matter with both Bosnian and Serbian officials on Wednesday and said he hoped to agree on a plan to evacuate the home. He admitted that the UNHCR had been powerless to prevent human rights violations in many areas of Bosnia.

In Belgrade, Patriarch Pavle, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, denounced the belief that a nation could defend itself through cruelty and crime and said Serbs were ashamed as they celebrated their Christmas Day. In a grim message marking the Orthodox festival, he spoke of the suffering inflicted by the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. 'Whoever says it is better for someone else's mother to cry than his own, he forgets that our mothers are both mothers and we are unfortunate brothers, both he who is killed and he who kills him,' he said.

LONDON - A visit to the Netherlands by the aircraft-carrier Ark Royal, the Royal Navy's flagship, has been cancelled amid reports it could be on standby for Yugoslavia.