Help at hand for British garrison

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The Independent Online
BRITISH military police are to join military police from the Bosnian Croat HVO army manning road-blocks this morning as the first military convoy for eight days moves up the mountain road from Tomislavgrad to the isolated British garrison at Vitez.

The first UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) convoy for four weeks is also heading for central Bosnia through Serb-controlled territory. British UN troops have reacted to the European Union sanction of the use of force to push aid through with a mixture of incredulity and indifference. No one here believes force can work more than once and, besides the fact that the UN and not the EU runs the operation, commanders of the ground would in practice ignore exhortations to use force and negotiate passage with the local factions, as they have been for the last year.

Yesterday engineers were clearing the mountain road closed on 15 November by an HVO operation around Gornji Vakuf. Truckloads of grit escorted by armoured vehicles headed out of Vitez southwards, while more engineers pushed north from Tomislavgrad under Monday's agreement between Brigadier John Reith, the UN force commander and Lieutenant-General Ante Roso, the HVO commander. The deal included the unprecdented step of using British military police alongside HVO military police to ease the passage of convoys, in addition to normal deployment of liaison officers.

The convoy was expected to leave Tomislavgrad at first light today. British UN troops from Gornji Vakuf will drive south to meet it.

The UNHCR suspended its civilian convoys four weeks ago after a Danish civilian driver was shot dead. The first convoy is also to run today as part of a plan devised by the UNHCR chief in central Bosnia, Larry Hollingworth.

The military vehicles heading up the mountain road will head straight to the big UN warehouse at Zenica; the Hollingworth plan involves convoys dropping supplies at key population centres on the way into central Bosnia, including the Croat enclave at Vitez, to forestall civil unrest. Yesterday Gornji Vakuf still echoed with machine-gun and mortar fire. On the way, locals, hungry and desperate in an early winter, showed some hostility to UN and associated vehicles but the only projectiles aimed were snowballs.