Core of UK Bosnia force flies in

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THE FIRST of the Cheshire Regiment soldiers who will form the core, but the minority, of the British force escorting humanitarian aid into Bosnia, arrived here last night. They are the advance party - 30 men out of 500 Cheshires, who will eventually form part of a total British force of 2,300.

Arriving after dark in a US Air Force Hercules, Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Stewart, the battalion commander, said: 'I am glad to be back here and that my battalion is starting to arrive. We've got a real job to do here and we are looking forward to getting on with it.'

Lt-Col Steward is returning to the theatre of operations after a week in Germany briefing his battalion on the results of his reconnaissance, so he is already familiar with the terrain. Yesterday morning a small British military convoy left for Tomislavgrad and Vitez to begin initial preparations for the arrival of British troops. Lt-Col Stewart was planning to head 'up- country' - into Bosnia - today but may not go until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in the north dock at Split, down a steep, rough-cobbled road, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Sir Bedivere moved up the quayside to make room for the first commercially chartered ship, Bassro Star, which arrived yesterday morning carrying about 100 vehicles - Bedford trucks and Land Rovers - with support equipment.

Lt-Col Stewart's Hercules was one of three arriving at Split yesterday. The first carried computer equipment, more signallers, medical staff and reinforcements for the Ministry of Defence's media- relations team, all with new blue cloth-covers on their helmets.

Sir Bedivere is home for about 250 personnel. 'Hot, damned hot. Hot, sticky and cramped' was the sergeants' mess opinion. It will get worse before it gets better. By the weekend, 400 will be on board.

But then the British will start moving into a barracks at Divulje, 3km along the coast east of the airport.

Before they moved the former Yugoslav army wrecked the place, ripping out lavatories and windows. The Royal Engineers have a major job to make it habitable. For some reason the local people put up a sign saying 'No Press'. As always, the peace-keepers will get flak from all sides. In Bosnia, they will be accused of rebuilding the barracks for the Croats. They are rebuilding it for the British who will share it with some Spanish - it will be handed back to Croatia one day.

Although the sergeants, all Royal Army Ordnance Corps, were most particular, as befitted their station, others were philosophical. 'It's all right just now but when the rest of the troops come it'll be very crowded,' said Corporal Garry Ross, from Aberdeen, one of 15 Royal Corps of Transport port operators. Clad in orange fluorescent jackets, they were relaxing between unloading vehicles. They will probably remain at Split for the next six months.

'The biggest apprehension is that you just do not know who your friend is. So you've always got to be on the look-out,' said one of the officers on Sir Bedivere. On Tuesday some shooting was even heard in Split. Croatian soldiers in Bosnia sometimes come across the border into Croatia proper for rest and recreation in Split. After a few beers, they sometimes fire their rifles in the air. Nothing serious.