Muslims herded as UN stood by: As reports of Serbian atrocities surface in New York, London considers proposals to protect civilians caught up in the war in Bosnia

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DOCUMENTARY evidence has emerged that the United Nations peace-keeping force stood by and watched while Serbian forces last month herded defenceless Muslim civilians into a football field in the town of Bosanski Novi before sending the men to concentration camps.

The UN's justification for failing to intercede is that its peace- keepers have orders to remain neutral in the war in Bosnia, whatever the circumstances. The policy of never taking sides, which was set by the Security Council, has left the UN soldiers feeling frustrated and angry, but unable to take action.

In addition, the UN has taken no direct action to inspect the numerous concentration camps and detention centres in Bosnia and Serbia. Instead, it has sub-contracted out the work to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an organisation traditionally loath to publicise its findings - however horrific - for fear of endangering the lives of detainees.

An internal UN memo states that at the Bosanski Novi football field the Muslim men were isolated and transported to concentration camps as part of the Serbian policy of 'ethnic cleansing'. The document goes on to describe the 'atrocious' treatment of Muslims 'with regular beatings, deprivation of food and water, poor shelter, etc.'

The stadium was 'clearly visible' to the UN peace-keeping force across the border in the Croatian town of Dvor, according to an internal memorandum, dated 3 July, which was leaked by the Bosnian UN mission. The memo's authenticity has not been challenged by the UN.

In what is perhaps the most vivid example yet seen of the UN's failure to prevent what was clearly a grave breach of the Geneva Accords (which forbid the mistreatment of civilians during war) the memo reads: 'We believe the football-field detainees are only a tip of the iceberg involving the concerted action of local Serbian authorities in BH (Bosnia-Herzegovina) trying to establish a Serbian republic free of Muslims.'

The memo also said that the mayors, the militia and the army were acting in collaboration with the authorities in other towns forcibly to disarm Muslims where they are a small encircled minority, such as in Bosanski Novi, or in besieging their city totally, as in Bihac.

The ICRC has visited nine detention centres in Bosnia since 7 July, but has failed to visit some of the concentration camps where the worst abuses of detainees are reported to have taken place, according to a report compiled by UN relief agencies at the beginning of last month.

Albert Peters, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, yesterday conceded he had information a month ago about alleged atrocities in Bosnia but had not made it public pending investigation by the ICRC. But he said the organisation had acted appropriately in not publicising the events at Bosanski Novi: 'it would have been extremely irresponsible' to have done so without verifying the information first-hand.

He went on to deny accusations that the UN had kept a study of Serbian abuses secret for the past month, saying that 'this has never been kept from public knowledge'. However, the first reference by the UNHCR to gross abuses of refugees was made only at the end of July by its chief, Sadako Ogata, at a conference. Mrs Ogata warned that 'time is running out' and called for a 'humanitarian counter-offensive'.

However, the memo of the meeting of UN agencies and the Red Cross points out that the UN had reports of concentration camps at four locations: Keraterm, where conditions were known to be 'extremely bad'; Trnopolte, a camp for women, children and old men; Omaska, a camp for local Muslim authorities before the Serbian takeover; and Manjaca, a large camp that holds many Croatian soldiers.

COLORADO SPRINGS - President Bush said the United States will establish full diplomatic relations with Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia, Reuter reports. 'I am outraged and horrified at the terrible violence shattering the lives of innocent men, women and children in Bosnia,' he said.

'Aggressors and extremists pursue a . . . vile policy, of ethnic cleansing, deliberately murdering innocent civilians, driving others from their homes . . . We must stop ethnic cleansing and open any and all detention camps to international inspection. We will not rest until the international community has gained access to any and all detention camps.'

(Photograph omitted)