Danger forces peace convoy to turn back

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RUMBOCI (Agencies) - Hundreds of international peace demonstrators camped here apparently decided to turn back to Split, on the Adriatic coast, rather than enter Bosnia's war zone and head for Sarajevo.

The convoy of more than 800 activists gave up its goal of reaching the besieged city because of the danger, the Lyons-based aid organisation Equilibre said yesterday.

The group, called Peace Now, left Split on Wednesday and arrived at Rumboci, halfway to Sarajevo, early on Thursday. Equilibre said it had received a radio message from one of the convoy's organisers, Alain Michel, who said it had been decided to go back because it was too dangerous to cross the territory ahead. The route crosses battlelines held by Muslim, Serb and Croat factions.

Some of the convoy, notably Italians, had refused to give up the idea of going on to Sarajevo, another 125 miles from Prozor, he said. But many had started the journey back to Split, where they planned to hold a rally today. The decision had been dictated 'for reasons of safety and responsibility and should not be seen as a failure,' he emphasised. Activists taking part in the convoy are from France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Sweden.

Before the decision was made, the group debated its course. 'Some want to proceed with the original plan and go on to Sarajevo, but there are others who say it is too dangerous,' Veronique Valty, a spokeswoman for Peace Now, said. The peace demonstrators, many of whom are from Italy and France, had camped for two days next to a lake by Rumboci, on the edge of the war zone. More than 800 people had arrived in cars, trucks and buses.

Many of the participants agonised over whether to proceed. 'We want to make a strong statement for peace and against war, but there's no point being foolhardy,' said Thomas, a Frenchman living in Rome.

'We just don't know how dangerous it is to continue.'