SARAJEVO (Reuter) - Four United States and Canadian planes carrying food and medicine landed at Sarajevo's airport yesterday before poor weather halted operations for the rest of the day. The sound of small arms and occasional mortar fire could be heard, mostly from Butmir west of the airport, as the aircraft swiftly unloaded.
But the cloudy, wet weather deteriorated, forcing the cancellation of five further aid flights scheduled for the afternoon, said French Major-General Jean Luc Olette, the deputy commander of Sarajevo airport.
A Canadian cargo plane began yesterday's airlift at 7.30am local time, carrying food plus two palettes of vital radar gear needed to keep the airport functioning during winter when Sarajevo is often shrouded in fog. Two US planes touched down later, keeping their engines running during a 20- minute unloading stop before they took off again. A second Canadian flight arrived about noon.
The planes, carrying about 50 tons of food and medical supplies, followed a lone US aircraft on Saturday which reopened the perilous lifeline to the besieged Bosnian capital after a one-month break, carrying 21,000 prepared meals to begin feeding Sarajevo's 380,000 people.
The air bridge was interrupted after an Italian plane was shot down over Muslim- and Croat- held territory, killing all four crew. No one has been charged with the attack.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, has said up to 400,000 people in Bosnia could die if they faced the winter without better food supplies and proper shelter.
The UNHCR expected a land convoy carrying 160 tons of medicine and food, including wheat and beans, to arrive in Sarajevo yesterday from Vitez, 60km (40 miles) north-west of the city.
Sarajevo had what passes for a relatively quiet night on Saturday with routine shelling in Dobrinja, a Muslim suburb near the airport and in Stup, a western district flanking a main access route into the city. In central Sarajevo there was sporadic sniper and mortar fire in the old town.
The Bosnian Medical Crisis Centre reported that in the 24 hours ended 10am yesterday, 49 people were killed and 130 wounded in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including four dead and 57 wounded in Sarajevo.
The United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) has written to the Croatian government expressing consternation at an incident on Friday in which two UN helicopters came under fire while approaching Zagreb on a medical evacuation mission. Both helicopters landed safely and without damage at Zagreb airport after the incident which followed a similar attack last Monday, since blamed by Croatia on a soldier opening fire without orders.