British leave scene of carnage

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The Independent Online
BRITISH troops left a Muslim village in eastern Bosnia last night where they had been held up for 24 hours, after shelling by Serbs killed at least 16 civilians who were blockading the troops.

Hundreds of women and children in Konjevic Polje had surrrounded two British armoured vehicles and a recovery vehicle where they had been acting as an escort for a United Nations convoy sent to pick up people wounded in the fighting.

The 11 soldiers pulled out after Bosnian Serb gunners opened fire on the crowd. At least six children were seriously injured, of whom two had their legs blown off, according to Major Martin Waters, a British spokesman.

He said that there were 'quite a few dead' and that two British doctors were performing emergency operations on other victims without anaesthetics.

Major Waters said that Serbian artillery had fired from the hills around the enclave and that some shells had hit the Muslim crowd. 'The fire was very well aimed. They obviously had an observation post in the mountains,' said the major, who is based at the headquarters of the British UN force at Vitez in central Bosnia.

Serbian commanders denied that they had aimed at Muslim civilians but acknowledged that they had launched a heavy artillery bombardment of the area around Konjevic Polje. They said their forces had been obliged to respond to a Muslim attack which had involved artillery and infantry.

The British troops and doctors later arrived safely in the Serbian town of Banja Koviljaca.

By shelling the Muslim civilians in full view of the British soldiers, the Bosnian Serb forces threw away what on Thursday had appeared to be a propaganda coup. The Muslims of Konjevic Polje had, in effect, taken the British soldiers hostage after they entered the enclave while escorting a UN medical convoy.

The villagers refused to let the soldiers go unless they agreed to evacuate wounded Muslims, presumably including male fighters. Meanwhile, officials at the UN headquarters in Belgrade said General Philippe Morillon, the commander of UN troops in Bosnia, had been prevented from leaving the Muslim town of Srebrenica by crowds of women and children.

General Morillon had gone to the town with a medical and reconnaissance team to assess the situation. Srebrenica has been under siege for 11 months and, according to a World Health Organisation doctor who went there last week, up to 30 people are dying every day.

In Sarajevo, Bosnia's Muslim- led leadership was still debating whether to accept an international peace plan that would divide the republic into 10 self-governing provinces, all but one dominated by a single ethnic group. The 10- man collective presidency spent two days in heated discussion over whether to sign the peace plan, but failed to reach an agreement. It is now likely that the Bosnian parliament will convene to take up the matter.

In New York, UN officials said civilian and military Bosnian Serb leaders intend to resume peace talks at the United Nations on Monday, a direct outcome of Thursday's Paris talks with Serbia's President Slobadan Milosevic.

In Belgrade, four branches of Jugoskandic bank were closed yesterday on the orders of its owner, Jezdimir Vasiljevic, who fled the country on Monday.

Thousands of investors flocked to the bank to try to salvage savings from the second largest private bank in Yugoslavia.